When Elizah Leonard wrestled in regionals on Feb. 9 in Wautoma, she became the first Wisconsin Dells girl to win a regional championship.
This year marks the first-ever Wisconsin Girls High School Rankings on the WIWrestling.com website. These rankings distinguish females on wrestling teams at their high schools. Two of our own Ho-Chunk Nation tribal members appear in these rankings, Elizah Leonard of Wisconsin Dells, and Asia Rave of Black River Falls.
Girls wrestling numbers have grown at all levels. The 2018-19 season has over 280 girls join wrestling teams at their high schools, and there are eleven ranking weights. The rankings include the top five, four are recognized for Honorable Mention, and some additional rankings include a Watch List.
Elizah Leonard is listed in the 113 weight class and is currently ranked #4 on the WIWrestling.com website. She holds a varsity spot for the Wisconsin Dells wrestling team and is now a junior. Elizah’s coach moved her up a weight class after she returned from a concussion last month.
“We thought it was a good opportunity for her to move up a weight class based on the type of kids that were there and turned out our 113 pounder made it to the sectional, and she won the regional championships. Special day in my life. I’ll never forget it,” said the Wisconsin Dells wrestling Coach Jim McFaul.
Elijah Leonard, Sr. and Morning-Star Leonard are Elizah Leonard’s parents. Her paternal grandparents are Nicodemus Leonard and Nancy Stacy-Leonard. Her maternal grandparents are Richard Stanley and Gloria Decorah.
When asked about Elizah, Coach McFaul said, “She was our first girl on our team, and she’s a pleasure to work with. She works every bit as hard as every boy in that room. So do the other two girls (on the team). She (Elizah) is special. She’s been a leader, a team leader.”
“She’s been wrestling since 5th grade,” said Elijah Leonard, Sr.
“Hinu (Elizah) usually eats, sleeps, and breaths wrestling,” stated Morning-Star Leonard.
Elizah Leonard spoke about how she became interested in wrestling, “I started wrestling in 5th grade because my brother and my sister, they went to state. I was in awe of how big the tournament was and how the atmosphere was. I just really wanted to be a part of it. The next year I started wrestling. I actually made it to state the year I started wrestling, and I got 4th there. Ever since then, I just keep falling in love with it.”
Elizah’s family and coach recognize the hard work and dedication Elizah has put into wrestling and academics. Elizah is researching a few potential colleges and hopes to earn a wrestling scholarship.
“She’s a great kid. She’s a hard worker,” said Coach McFaul.
Elijah Leonard, Sr. said, “Elizah puts in the work, she’s a good student.”
Morning-Star Leonard briefly explained the protocol Elizah had to follow in order to compete after her concussion, “Part of protocol to safely return is to do five days of cardio and then light weight lifting, etc., and all to be monitored by the athletic trainer….the school athletic nurse gets the last call if and when Elizah can wrestle.”
With all the recent inclement weather and school closings, Elizah had to wait a bit longer than five days before being cleared to compete. Elizah was approved before regionals, and her perseverance paid off.
“I like the hard work and the ambition and dedication that you have to have to be in this sport because it’s really hard. It’s hard to push yourself and especially with dieting and everything…It teaches you how to be, kind of, you have to be strong-minded to be a part of wrestling. It’s hard. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just hard. I like the fact that it pushes me to the limits,” said Elizah.
When asked who she credits her wrestling skill to, Elizah Leonard said, “My coach Jim McFaul and my instructor Felipe Barbosa…I credit those two and my parents as well.
“I’ve been through a lot with my coach over there, that’s Jim McFaul. I definitely give him a lot of credit because he has pushed me throughout the years. He’s never given up on me and I just really appreciate what he’s done for me.
“Especially since, when I first started out, I wasn’t accepted because I was a girl. I just really appreciate him because he took it upon himself to say like, ‘Hey, she’s going to be a part of the team. There’s no stopping it. There’s no whatever, we just have to accept it.’
“And by him doing that, it just changed the whole game because then the boys started treating me like family. I just felt more a part of the team…and it made me feel at home. So, I just really appreciate what he’s done for me.
“He’s always there, and he’s always giving me amazing advice. He’s definitely pushed me harder, and he’s pushed me to keep going because I did want to quit a couple years ago. But he kept me going and he was always like, ‘You wrestling this year?’ and I just can’t let him down.”
Ms. Leonard, the former Miss Neeshla (powwow) 2016-17, also had words of encouragement to other Native girls in wrestling.
Elizah said, “I know a lot of Native girls that are wrestling, or they are starting. Just don’t quit. It’s going to be hard you’re going to have to push yourself to your limits, but that’s the whole point of wrestling. Wrestling is pushing yourself to your limits, every single day. You just have to keep pushing and keep going because, in the end, it will reward you.”
Coach Jim McFaul commented on the regional tournament, “We’ve had a very good day but for her to be in the sectional tournament is quite an accomplishment. That’s not an easy thing to do, and 120 pounds is not an easy weight class.”
Elizah Leonard defeated Lodi’s Mason Marchand and Wautoma Wild Rose’s Ashton Abraham. The Wisconsin Dells wrestling team finished second, just 18 points behind team Lodi. Wisconsin Dells collectively had seven individual champions and four runners-up, for a total of 11 qualifiers for Division 2 sectional.
Coach McFaul closed by saying, “Can’t wait to see what she will do in the sectionals and what’s she’s going to do with the rest of her life. She is going to be successful. Thank you.”