DENVER (Gray News) - Brendan Johnston went 37-6 in his senior season as a wrestler at Denver’s Classical Academy.
He wrestled in the Class 3A 106-pound weight class, but refused to wrestle a girl. Every time he matched up with one, he forfeited.
“I’m not really comfortable with a couple of things with wrestling a girl,” Johnston told The Denver Post, standing on principle. “The physical contact, there’s a lot of it in wrestling. And I guess the physical aggression, too. I don’t want to treat a young lady like that on the mat. Or off the mat. And not to disrespect the heart or the effort that she’s put in. That’s not what I want to do, either.”
Five of his losses were forfeits to female opponents. Four of them were forfeits to the same girl, Angel Rios.
Johnston’s forfeits knocked him out of the state wrestling tournament last week, but it helped propel two young ladies to history.
He forfeited his opening round match against Skyview High School senior Jaslynn Gallegos on Feb. 21. Then, he met Rios in the third round of consolations on Feb. 23 and again refused to compete.
When Johnston forfeited, Rios became one of the first girls to qualify for a podium finish.
“(Placing at state), it’s kind of what I wanted from 7th grade, when I first watched state. It’s pretty much what I’ve worked for over the past 15 years.” Rios told The Denver Post.
Rios has three older brothers who are also wrestlers, so wrestling the boys is something she’s grown up doing. She said she was disappointed with the forfeit, but clarified there is no bad blood between her and Johnston.
While Rios’ spot on the podium was guaranteed with Johnston’s decision, Gallegos still had to earn hers. She pinned Hunter Frederickson to cement her place in history.
“It’s come such a long way,” Gallegos told The Denver Post. “When I was younger, even in 2006, we had problems with sexism and all of that. Now it’s just not there, the whole ‘girls shouldn’t wrestle’ thing.”
Rios finished fourth and Gallegos placed fifth. Both girls lost to freshman Robert Estrada, who finished third.
Even so, Estrada had high praise for both young ladies.
“It’s really cool to have the first girls place at state in my bracket,” Estrada told local media. “(Rios) is really tough,” Estrada said. “She’s one of the best in the nation among girls. Same with Jaslynn.”