BY JAKE DONOVAN
Two weeks ago, Annalise Dodson and Isabella “Bella” Campbell traveled in separate circles while both in search of something to expand their horizons.
A random school-time P.A. announcement not only filled that void, but forever made their names synonymous with another as it relates to Franklin High School sports.
The pair of sophomore student became the first-ever female athletes to join the school’s wrestling program, both enjoying as spectacular a debut as anyone could ask for. Dodson and Campbell both scored first period pins, as hosting Franklin Rebels’ girls and boys teams each posted wins over visiting Lavergne High School on Tuesday.
Dodson forced a pin of Lavergne’s Jaylen Hicks at 1:40 of the opening round, while Campbell finished off Joanna Torres in the blink of an eye—or 0:29 to be exact.
The pair of victories were part of a huge night on campus, with the boys’ team beating Lavergne 52-24 and both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams dominating visiting Hillsboro in separate victories in the main gym.
“It’s awesome, a huge milestone to allow females to be a part of the wrestling program,” Franklin head coach Tucker Cathey—also an assistant coach for the boys’ wrestling and football teams—told the Home Page. “It’s huge for Franklin from a historical perspective, given our program’s legacy in middle Tennessee.
“For Annalise and Bella to be able to say they’re the first to compete—and win—is pretty incredible given this school’s longtime standing in the sport.”
It was something neither student gave much thought prior to an announcement earlier in the month revealing that Franklin HS would feature a female wrestling team for the first time ever. Once they heard it, though, there was no turning back.
“We’re the first two chicks to do this here, and it’s just been a lot of fun,” admitted Dodson, who has longed to expand her extracurricular horizons. “We’ve talked a lot this past week-and-a-half. I had no clue what I was doing when I signed up to wrestle and to be honest I still have no clue.
“But it’s OK, we’re chugging along and figuring things out. It’s a lot of fun. I can see us going far in wrestling. We’ve already grown so much.”
It was only fitting that Dodson would be the first to take the mat, as she was also the first to respond—both to the school announcement and to the coaching staff.
“Annalise was the first one to sign up, and it just seemed like God’s plan,” explained Cathey, a championship wrestler for Franklin HS who has been a coach at the school for the pat two years. “(The boys team) had a meet on Saturday and just lost to Cane Ridge. I came back up here to do team laundry. Annalise sent me an email saying, ‘I’m ready to go, GIRL POWER!’
“Her enthusiasm is definitely (infectious). A lot of wrestling is momentum. We talked all week about who’d be the first to get the win.”
For Dodson, it was all a blur from the moment she hit the mat through her arm being raised in victory.
“Honestly, I just came out, saw my opponent and said to myself that I gotta find a way to get this chick on her back,” recalled Dodson, who is also on the school’s storied marching band and has previously competed on the swim team in addition to her aspiring artist side and creating cartoons. “I put my mind to it, overpowered her and got the pin.”
As far as both members of the team were concerned, there was no other option for how their respective matches would end.
“We wanted to make an impact; we had to make the boys respect us,” insisted Campbell, an AP honors student who has excelled at the championship level in her six years of jujitsu training. “We were cheering each other on, screaming our heads off.”
Campbell’s celebration of her teammate provided the necessary momentum into her own meet, wasting no time in raising the bar.
“Annalise’s match just happened to be first, but for both to not just win but pin their opponents was just an incredible feeling all around,” Cathey notes of their respective victories. “Of course, both have a long way to go, as do I as a coach in (refining) their techniques and getting them more comfortable in competition moving forward. But you can’t ask for a better start.”
Whereas Dodson ran almost exclusively on adrenaline, Campbell relied on her formal competition experience in jujitsu—and all-around overwhelming desire to excel at every level—to carry her through the evening.
“A couple of weeks ago I went to a wrestling invitational at Blackman HS. It was intimidating,” Campbell recalled in mentally preparing for Tuesday’s meet. “I saw the girls that came in after the boys, and they looked tough and fierce. They were full-on tough.
“I admit, I’m the type that’s tightly strung. So I came out here like that, determined to not just win but to make sure I made a statement. It was so rewarding when it was all finished, given that we are the first at the school to ever do this.”
From their groundbreaking moment comes an instant bond that neither ever saw coming even as recent as two weeks ago.
“Of course, growing so close through training and being the only two on the team, it seems like we’ve been friends forever,” Campbell acknowledges. “But to be honest—we knew that each other existed, but that was about it. We had the same 8th grade Spanish class. Other than that, we just had friends of friends but weren’t directly friends.”
That status forever changed in a moment’s notice.
“You can say that we were forced together, but it ended up working out, and we are now inseparable,” Dodson points out. “Everyone has been so supportive of us and our journey. You have to love our school, and our community.”
Photos courtesy of Michelle Palk.