Paytan Tye’s intent wasn’t to stand out whenever the Greenwood Community Middle School wrestlers were in competition.
As a girl, she had little choice.
Standing 5-foot and weighing 85 pounds, Tye isn’t the most physically imposing Woodmen wrestler. Nonetheless, the seventh-grader is all business, whether it’s practice or the instant her match begins.
While she is one of few female wrestlers at the middle school level, it’s not unheard of in Johnson County. Center Grove Middle School North had two female wrestlers last season, and Larissa Lenkey, a sixth-grader at Franklin Community Middle School, is competing this season.
Having trained the past four years in jiu-jitsu, Tye is accustomed to training with and competing against males.
“Paytan is a quiet young lady to talk to, but when she gets on the mat she doesn’t back down. She’s a fighter out there,” middle school wrestling coach Chris Campbell said.
“She could be (middle school) varsity on a lot of other teams. Just a tough competitor who is in there without any complaints and is never one to sit out a practice.”
Tye’s mother, Cortni, said approximately 95 percent of Paytan’s practice partners are male. Paytan has yet to compete against a female in jiu-jitsu.
“I think that helps her with (wrestling),” Cortni said. “She’s not intimidated.”
Tye, who wrestles primarily junior varsity matches in the 85-pound class, has no issue with competing against males. There are times, however, they have an issue wrestling her.
Paytan’s first foray into organized wrestling as a sixth-grader included one match where the opponent refused to wrestle a girl. More recently, it happened earlier this month when Tye’s opponent preferred forfeiting the match than getting on the mat against a female.
“Honestly, it ticks me off. Not only is it teaching the child to run away from things they’re unsure about, it’s disrespectful to my daughter. It doesn’t give her the credit she’s due,” Cortni said.
“Personally, I think it makes (opponent’s) family look bad and makes the child look even worse.”
Potential embarrassment associated with losing to a girl is one possible motive, whether it comes from the opposing team’s coach, the wrestler himself or the wrestler’s parent or parents.
Males that age may also have reservations about having physical contact with a girl, though Cortni Tye said most of her daughter’s opponents don’t hold back.
Nor does Paytan, who also trains in judo to go along with her wrestling and jiu-jitsu training.
“I started wrestling because I wanted to get better with my jiu-jitsu. It helps me with takedowns and different moves I can do to get them down to the ground,” said Tye, a yellow/black belt who is on pace to earn her orange belt in the spring.
“Wrestling as a workout is harder with all the running we have to do, but the techniques are harder in jiu-jitsu.”
Cortni remembers the day her daughter first expressed an interest in being part of the Greenwood Middle School wrestling program.
She was on board with a female being in a traditionally all-male sport almost immediately.
“To be honest I thought it was fantastic. There were some butterflies, but I was very excited for her. She brought home the form and we signed it,” Cortni said.
Cortni said not everyone is supportive. A mother whose son wrestled for a different team once cornered Cortni to ask how she could even think about letting her daughter participate in wrestling.
Wrestling and jiu-jitsu contain similar components, though the latter promotes the idea that a smaller, weaker person can prevail against an opponent by using proper leverage and technique.
Campbell, for one, hopes Tye sticks with wrestling long enough to continue showing improvement.
“Paytan is a pretty good mat wrestler, but still needs to work on her takedowns by getting lower in her stance,” Campbell said. “I hope she comes out for wrestling again next year as an eighth-grader because those guys who are ahead of her will be in high school.
“It will be up to her whether she wrestles in high school because it gets a little more physical and the boys she would be wrestling against would be stronger.”
THE TYE FILE
Name: Paytan Tye
Family: Parents, James and Cortni; brothers, Lynden, 6, and James, 5
School: Greenwood Middle School
Favorite TV show: “Pit Bulls and Parolees”
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite athlete: Ronda Rousey
Favorite team: University of Kentucky men’s basketball