Saturday morning was admittedly emotional for Columbia High’s Payton Lanningham. But when the dust settled on the wrestling mats in the gym, the sophomore knew her grandfather would be proud.
Lanningham was one of more than 40 female high school wrestlers from three different states gathered at the Jaybird Memorial Wrestling Tournament at Columbia High, the first all-girls wrestling tournament ever sanctioned by the Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA).
The tournament is named after Lanningham’s grandfather, Jay Lanningham, a supporter of wrestling and Columbia athletics who was killed in a car crash last June. Jay Lanninghman, a teenage driver and the driver’s sister were killed when they were struck head-on by a truck while on the road for a wrestling tournament in Pocatello. Payton escaped with minor injuries.
The significance of participating in the first IHSAA sanctioned all-girls wrestling tournament that also happens to bear her grandfather’s name was not lost on Payton.
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“My grandpa was a big part of the wrestling team, all growing up,” she said. “To have a tournament to kind of honor him really means a lot.”
A total of 22 schools from Idaho, Oregon and Utah were represented at the Jaybird Memorial. According to Columbia High wrestling coach Todd Cady, more than 100 girls are certified to wrestle in Idaho this year; that number was in the 30s or 40s a year ago, he said.
The theme of Saturday’s tournament? “Brawlin with braids,” of course.
Cady said the ultimate goal is for there to be a separate state girls wrestling tournament rather than having to compete in the boys brackets.
“It’s growing. It’s no longer an oddity to see a female wrestler,” he said. “Now, it’s just ‘wrestlers.’ It’s not boys or girls.”
Also in attendance was Katherine Shai, a member of Team USA’s wrestling team. Shai finished third in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Trials and was the World University Champion in 2008.
Shai couldn’t help but smile when seeing the next wave of female wrestlers.
“These are pioneers who are starting this in Idaho. It’s monumental. It’s a huge event,” Shai said. “It’s a big step and a big deal.”