Last year, Emma Gomez, of Hemingford, finished second in the Nebraska Scholastic Wrestling Coaches Association Girls State Tournament in the 190-pound weight class.
Gomez finished second again this year, but this year’s finish might be more impressive. The field grew considerably from last year’s inaugural tournament.
Gomez had 13 other girls in her weight class, but what makes her second place finish impressive is she went in with a severe knee injury.
“(I first hurt my knee) two weeks before girls state, actually,” Gomez said. “At first I thought I just hyperextended it, but it actually ended up being where I lost extension to it. I was actually wrestling at girl state with a hurt knee. ... This isn’t confirmed, but it does sound like my kneecap has been shifted over this whole time. At first, we thought it was the ACL and we were told MCL. It’s been kind of a mess.”
Adversity, though, is nothing new to Gomez, who began wrestling at a young age.
“It’s actually a really funny story. My dad (Pete Gomez) was a wrestling coach at the time. But my mom also worked as a bartender. So, instead of me, hanging out with my mom, I would go with my dad to wrestling practice. I’ve been in the wrestling room for a very long time, like since I was in diapers. In kindergarten, all my little classmates are running around at wrestling practice, and I just decided to get up one day and start running around with them.”
Since she took up wrestling, Gomez has found herself being one of the few girls competing and having to wrestle against boys.
Gomez grew up wrestling with Bridgeport’s Jerzie Menke, who told me last year that she had to be more technically sound to beat boys because they are just naturally stronger.
“She was a little bit skinnier, so, for me, it’s a little more difficult because the guys just have more muscle mass. Technique definitely plays a big role in it,” she said.
Like Menke, Gomez has been a vocal advocate for establishing girls wrestling as a sanctioned high school sport in Nebraska to give girls the opportunity to compete against other girls. The Nebraska Scholastic Activities Association took a step closer to doing that when its board voted to make girls wrestling an emerging sport.
“It’s been something we’ve been fighting for so long,” Gomez said. “That was also another thing that really kept me in (wrestling), just to make sure that it got sanctioned. People were not happy about it (being approved as an emerging sport), but I think I’m OK with it. It was really disappointing (the NSAA board didn’t vote to sanction girls wrestling), but I know they’re also trying to take a step forward to trying to get it sanctioned.”
Gomez said she is used to having to fight for the right to wrestle.
“(There’s) definitely been a lot of challenges. For me, growing up in a very small town, there was not exactly a lot of people who even heard of girls wrestling before, so it’s about changing the minds of people. It’s taken a lot of years, but we’re here,” she said.
Gomez, though, said she didn’t really have to change the minds of her fellow wrestlers who had become accustomed to seeing her on the wrestling mat.
“A lot of times, I was the only girl,” she said. “I wouldn’t get my own locker. I’d have to go in the bathroom and I’d have ladies staring at me in the bathroom changing into my singlet. I even had an older woman come up to me and say that I was going to go to hell for what I was doing. I got so much hate. It definitely was difficult for me because I was a bigger girl. There were a couple people that said to my face, ‘You’re too big.’ Or, ‘Aren’t you insecure?’ I had people on social media, who I didn’t even know, contact me and asking. ‘Why are you doing this?’”
The knee injury Gomez suffered ended her season, and she’s also decided to call it a career. Gomez has scholarship offers from colleges to compete in wrestling, but she said she is ready to give back.
“My plan is to, hopefully, help coach. Whether it’s little kids or just trying to fill that little hole. With the amount of girl wrestlers that are coming in, they are going to need coaches. That’s going to be a big thing,” she said.