Girl Wrestler Goes to the Mat

People, Sports
on October 14, 2001

Joey Miller of Woodward, Okla., (pop. 11,853) has a serious warning for the nation’s boy wrestlers: Don’t laugh.

“Because if you do, you’re going to get beat,” says the 12-year-old girl, who often has the last laugh on the wrestling mat. She has won more than 50 tournament championships, competing almost exclusively against boys. One of a handful of Oklahoma girl wrestlers, she boasts a record of 400 wins and 50 losses. There are few female wrestlers, and Joey says most are in California, Arizona, Alaska, Texas, and New Mexico.

“I may be a girl,” Joey says. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t wrestle.”

Joey began winning shortly after her brother, Frank, gave her a pair of wrestling shoes for Christmas in 1993. He didn’t really expect her to take up the sport.

“He just bought the shoes because they were on clearance and he needed to get his sister a present,” says her mother, Novell Miller.

Joey laced up the shoes and transformed herself into an award-winning wrestler. “My parents didn’t think I would take it this far,” Joey says.

Joey competes in matches all across the country, and the girl in a male-dominated sport has earned respect from her coaches, her peers, and Kent Bailo, the founder of the United States Girls Wrestling Association.

“Joey’s a tough little fireball,” Bailo says.

Adam DeLong, a teammate from Weatherford, Okla., who practices with Joey every Monday night, agrees. “She’s really good. She can beat boys. She can beat girls. She can beat anybody,’’ he says.

Novell says it’s fun to watch her daughter win, though she never guessed Joey would go so far. “We thought she would get beat up once or twice, cry, and then quit,” Novell adds. “We just knew it would happen that way. Boy, were we wrong.”

Joey lost her first match, won the next three, and then took home her first tournament trophy. The grappler has since earned the Bob Cairns Distinguished Wrestler Award for freestyle wrestling, a state tournament title, a national title, and more.

She hopes to one day add an Olympic medal. “That’s my biggest dream,” she says. “That’s why I keep training so hard.” Joey and her father are involved with other parents in petitioning Olympic officials to get women’s wrestling included in the 2004 Olympic Games.

“Realistically, I think it will happen, but maybe not by the next games,’’ Jerry Miller says. Bailo is also optimistic that girls’ wrestling will eventually be an Olympic sport.

Joey spends the majority of her time in practice, watches her diet, and attends wrestling camps whenever possible. “She pushes herself to be better,” Novell says. “We don’t pressure her or push her at all. If anything, she drags us behind.”

Joey’s girlfriends are fascinated by her success as a wrestler. When Joey invites friends over for a slumber party, they always want to conduct their own wrestling tournament on the living room floor.

“My friends think it’s really cool,” Joey says. “Some of them want to wrestle, but their moms won’t let them.”

Joey’s popularity extends way beyond her friends and Woodward’s city limit signs. She has her own website, which receives hundreds of hits weekly from people as far away as Germany. “It’s amazing the amount of e-mail she gets,” Novell says. “People are always wanting wrestling tips.”

Joey likes all the attention, but credits her parents for all the sacrifices they have made to let her chase her dreams. “I’m 100 percent thankful for my parents,” she says.

She’s also thankful for her abilities. Joey is always ready to prove that girls can be great wrestlers, too.

“Girls can do anything.”

Found in: People, Sports