Ohatchee’s Gladden shows she has what it takes to compete on the state mat
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Feb 14, 2013 | 7192 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ohatchee’s Hannah Gladden looks to the referee Saturday during her win in the Class 1A-4A Section 2 meet at Jacksonville State University. Gladden advanced to a berth in the state tournament, the first wrestler from Ohatchee to do so. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Ohatchee’s Hannah Gladden looks to the referee Saturday during her win in the Class 1A-4A Section 2 meet at Jacksonville State University. Gladden advanced to a berth in the state tournament, the first wrestler from Ohatchee to do so. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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OHATCHEE — It was something, watching Hannah Gladden maintain her grasp around the waist of Ohatchee High wrestling teammate Payton Entrekin on Tuesday. One almost didn’t notice the TV crew staging a standup on the mat around them.

On cue, as the on-air personality finished his monologue with the word “tenacity,” the V-cut Entrekin exploded off the center circle and thundered around the mat like a raging bull, determined to break Gladden’s grasp. Take after take, she held.

She held for several seconds at a time.

Entrekin took seriously his work to help his teammate and friend prepare for her second straight state tournament berth, a first by an Ohatchee wrestler. Gladden took seriously her preparation, using every TV take as a test of skill, will and stamina.

Subtract the word “girl.” She’s a wrestler.

If it wasn’t evident in how she pinned Piedmont’s Chase Keener in Saturday’s sectional, rallying from a 7-3 hole with nine seconds left to qualify for state in the 138-pound class, then it was evident watching her prepare.

“My thing is just to do my best, and I want to be a state champ,” she said. “That’s my main goal, is to be a state champ and to do this in college (against girls).

“I want to do my best to get to wrestle girls, because that’s what I really want to do, to get to the 2016 Olympics.”

It’s hard to keep Gladden from her goals. Just a junior, she’s getting looks from colleges with ranked women’s wrestling programs. That includes second-ranked Oklahoma City University, No. 3 King College (Bristol, Tenn.) and No. 8 University of the Cumberlands (Williamsburg, Ky.).

She took an interest in wrestling in eighth grade at the encouragement of a friend who gave her the nickname “beast” because of her strong build. She said she inquired at Southside High and was told they had a spot for her — as a mat maid.

Anyone who has seen her, let alone watched her wrestle, would quickly get over any notion of her as wrestling’s version of a manager.

A coach who saw her potential left Southside for Gadsden City and invited her to come along. There, she qualified for the 2012 state tournament.

When Gadsden City wrestlers were informed there was no money to take them to sectional or state tourneys this year, Gladden and her family improvised. Ohatchee was about to start its wrestling program, and that made for an easy move just across the Etowah-Calhoun County line.

Gladden’s dad, Ricky Gladden, operates the family business, Gladden’s Body Shop, with his father in Gadsden.

The Gladdens made the move in time for second semester, and Hannah Gladden resumed her state quest. She already had made an impression on her new coach and teammates, having wrestled Entrekin earlier in the season.

“She’s strong, and she’s definitely competitive,” said Entrekin, who wrestles in the 132-pound class. “She’s got great technique. She’s not easy to beat.”

Hannah Gladden gave Entrekin a tougher-than-usual match.

“He wrestled and beat her at Gadsden City 11-7, but he pins everybody,” Ohatchee coach Matt Sweatman said. “He come off the mat, and I was like, ‘You couldn’t pin a girl?’ He was like, ‘She’s tough.’”

Sweatman said he hears similar feedback after meets, during team handshakes. Hannah Gladden’s 26-22 record shows that she doesn’t win every match, but teams that wrestle her come away respecting her.

“They’re always like, ‘Man, she’s tough. She wrestles like a guy,’ ” Sweatman said.

She usually faces determined competition from boys.

“You just don’t want to lose to a girl, not trying to be sexist or anything,” Entrekin said.

Not every school fields a wrestler against Hannah Gladden. Some forfeit in her weight class.

“You’ve got coaches that have first-year kids, and they’re like, ‘I really don’t want to embarrass them, getting beat by a girl,’” Sweatman said. “I understand that, but with her, it’s not really an embarrassment.”

Sometimes, the forfeitures reach absurd proportions. She said she essentially had one week off … five forfeits.

She also hears an occasional comment. While a sophomore at Gadsden City, she heard parents of one opponent voice adamant opposition to the idea of a girl competing.

“They were saying that a girl shouldn’t be out there wrestling, and it kind of hurt my feelings,” she said. “It didn’t make me mad. It just hurt my feelings that they’d say I shouldn’t be out there.

“When I’m out there, every time I give it 150 percent and I do my best.”

Shannon Gladden, Hannah’s mom, said she doesn’t take offense at comments.

“Only if they don’t give her a chance,” Shannon Gladden said. “That’s the only thing that offends me.

“She goes out there and she doesn’t expect them to treat her any different. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t do any of that stuff.”

Wrestling requires the unisex virtues of technique, smarts, will and stamina. It also helps to be at least as strong as the competition.

Hannah Gladden comes up all checks against other wrestlers in her weight class. She’s in boys physical education at Ohatchee and has bench-pressed 150 pounds three reps.

Sweatman, also a member of Ohatchee’s football staff, puts that feat into perspective.

“We’ve got some eighth- and ninth-grade receivers who don’t bench-press 150 pounds three times,” he said. “She’s strong. Her core is very strong.”

She needed all of her technique, smarts, will, stamina and strength in this past weekend’s Class 1A-4A, Section 2 meet at Jacksonville State. Her seeding meant that she was one of two wrestlers in her class who didn’t get a first-round bye.

She beat Madison County’s Samuel Bramlett in a 12-5 decision and Dora’s Donald Scott 16-9 before losing to Westminster Christian Academy’s Ethan Pippin 7-3. That put her in the losers bracket, where she had to beat Keener to advance to state.

Down 7-3 with nine seconds left, she got a pin for the fourth and final qualifying spot in her weight class.

She was visibly emotional as she reported to the center circle to have her arm raised by the official. Then she found her coaches for hugs.

It felt good to prove that making state in 2012 was no fluke.

“When I made it last year, I was real nervous,” she said. “When I came into this year, it was just unbelievable that I made it again two years in a row, because people might think that, for a girl, I’m good, but to me, I’m not a girl out there.

“I’m a wrestler, just like they are.”

That much is obvious to anyone who sees her practice, let alone compete.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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