Jackie Font is establishing herself this spring as a wrestler to watch in the Tampa Bay area.
There’s only one girl on Strawberry Crest’s wrestling team at this time, but that’s not the only reason Jackie Font stands out among her fellow Chargers.
Font’s trip to Virginia Beach, Virginia to compete in the 30th annual NHSCA High School Nationals tournament on March 31 resulted in a sixth-place national ranking among NHSCA wrestlers and All-American status earned. With a slew of intensive summer camps and tournaments on the horizon, Font is looking to build off of that strong end to her junior season and head into the fall established as a force to be reckoned with in the area preps scene.
Font went 3-2 in the NHSCA tournament and, though taking back-to-back losses in the end wasn’t the way she envisioned things ending, she’s still proud of what she was able to accomplish in the tourney’s inaugural girls division.
“When I wrestled my blood round to get to All-American, I was really happy,” Font said. “I looked at my dad and smiled because I knew I was already placing, so it felt really good.”
Her goals for next season and beyond are already set: become a state champion and a national champion at the high school level, go on to wrestle in college — not unlike her older sister, Christina, who also wrestled for Crest — and become a professional mixed martial arts fighter after college.
Her love of competition and diverse martial arts background, which includes jiujitsu, judo, boxing and kickboxing, has only helped her on the high school mat.
“Jackie is hands-down one of the hardest workers we have here in our room,” coach Will Terry said. “She gets after it. She’s not afraid to sweat. Not afraid to hustle.”
There’s only one thing Font and Terry wish were different: though Font could end her Crest career as a champion on the state level, it wouldn’t be officially sanctioned.
It’s not that the FHSAA is adamantly against the idea of girls wrestling, as was confirmed in an April 3 meeting in which the state’s sports governing body approved to move forward with plans to sanction it.
It’s just that the FHSAA has dragged its feet on the idea of giving girls wrestling equal footing with the boys side for so long, Font will be out of high school by the 2020-21 season that could bring the change.
“We’re a little bit behind some of the ‘stud states,’ but we’re getting there and I’m very excited to see (the FHSAA) going in the right direction,” Terry said. “(Girls) deserve recognition, too. They’re out there busting their tails like the boys are, and to go to a tournament and not have it recognized by the FHSAA is kind of a letdown, you know. They bust their butts, they train all year, they run the miles and do the stadiums.”
While her male teammates go through the FHSAA brackets after the regular season, things are different for Font and the other girls that have come up through Florida’s ranks and want similar recognition to show for it. They’re forced to search around for tournaments in and out of the state that are both legitimate and allow girls to compete. Though Font and others, such as Crest alum and two-time state champ Sarah Subko, have made it work, it seems like work that shouldn’t be necessary. If girls want to wrestle for Florida’s FHSAA-member schools, they’re mixed in with the boys and don’t always get to wrestle other girls at meets. That’s not the biggest problem ever for girls who have to grapple with boys every day in practice and love to compete, but it’s not preferable to having all-girls teams and events.
“We’ve got some more girls coming up,” Terry said. “Eventually we would love to put together an all-girls team. Our numbers have to grow, but we’re starting here with (Charger Wrestling Club).”
Though the sport’s female population is clearly growing at the high school and collegiate levels and the FHSAA’s decision for 2020-21 should help the scene at large, Font says there’s still a stigma or two that needs to be broken before wrestling can flourish as a girls sport in Florida. She’s trying to help the team convince more girls at Strawberry Crest to give wrestling a shot.
“You just really have to let them know they can do this, but it’s really hard because this is something people don’t imagine,” Font said. “It’s like, ‘That’s not a sport for me, that’s a male-dominated sport. What am I doing there? I don’t belong there.’ After you get it into their head that they can do this, that they belong here, it gets them in the practice room.”
Perhaps if their words alone aren’t enough for some, a strong 2019-20 season for Font could help change some minds. To hear her tell it, she’s ready to take on anything and anyone that gets in her way.
“They haven’t worked as hard as I have,” Font said. “They haven’t gone through the practices that I have. They haven’t met the people that I have. They haven’t learned from the people that I have. They haven’t put in as much work in the practice room as I have. They can’t beat me.”