By Mike Moguin
GTR Sports Writer
As girls’ participation in wrestling continues to grow in Oklahoma, Union is now the second school in the Tulsa area to have a program.
Broken Arrow was the first to start one two years ago.
Darin McAfee is the head coach of the Union team after previously working as an assistant for the Union boys.
“For the past three years, we had a handful,” McAfee said. “At that time, the girls had to work out with the boys. We would run anywhere from seven to 12 girls. Last year, we only had four. We were focused on girls only, but when COVID hit, it set us back a year.”
Eventually, the push for a girls’ program overcame that battle and one was instituted this summer.
The athletic department began talking about the idea of a girls program in 2019, McAfee said.
“It took a lot of work from (Athletic Director) Emily Barkley and (Associate Athletic Director) Steve Dunlap. They pushed for it on a daily basis. I committed to accepting the position as head coach. It was in June when Emily called me in and I agreed to take the position. After that, we picked up the chain, got approval and started going.”
And it took off.
“We had five (girls) going in from the summer. With those girls spearheading the word of the possibility, it started getting a few girls involved,” McAfee said. “However, once we made it public and made it known, word just went out,” McAfee said. “We were able to hire Gerald Harris and his wife Nicci Harris, and that was a huge hire.”
Gerald Harris wrestled in high school for East Central and collegiately for Cleveland State. He is also a former UFC fighter.
“With those high caliber coaches comes a following,” McAfee said. “When word got out that Gerald and I were coaching together, our phones wouldn’t quit.”
Both McAfee and Harris had coached girls that became All-Americans in college.
Another big draw was the new facility built within the new portion of the football stadium.
“The wrestling room is a five-mat room, one of the largest around,” McAfee said.
Most of the team is new. There are a lot of first-year and second-year wrestlers. Those with victories include junior Channele Alburg.
Union opened its season with the Black and Red duel on Oct. 28.
“It’s going to be an intersquad event,” McAfee said. “We’re putting two teams together full of high school and junior high girls. It’s just a lot of fun. They’ll wrestle each other. We put on a big show with it to start the year off.
Then on Nov. 3, the team traveled west to compete in their first tournament at Edmond North.
“We are definitely a top three team, if not the top team,” McAfee said. “Each day we’re growing. We’re putting almost 60 girls together and we’re trying to make it work.”
The task has also been a learning experience for McAfee.
“Coaching girls is different from coaching boys, because boys go with the flow while girls are perfectionists. That’s what I’ve learned in my first year. They’re going to ask questions and want to perfect what you teach them. That gives us as coaches a good look at each athlete.”
McAfee is also grateful for the support given to the team.
“Everybody within the administration staff has been behind us,” McAfee said. “It’s really good to build the sport from top to bottom. I really foresee us being within the top two or three in our district within due time.”