Every hair was in place. The makeup was perfect and the dress was stunning. That was Raina Covington last fall when she was named Bryan County’s Homecoming Queen. It was hard to imagine at that time the senior did anything other than float through life looking like a china doll. But as many have found out there’s more to Covington than meets the eye. For starters she played on the Redskins’ tennis, soccer and volleyball teams—all of which were state playoff teams—and she was, on a scale of 1-7, an all-star Level 6 competitive cheerleader. That was all child’s play compared with the sport she decided to take on this year: wrestling.
Wrestling, which Bryan County started three years ago under the auspices of Coach Zach Ledbetter, is a grueling, demanding sport which is not for the faint of heart.
That, Ledbetter said, is right up Covington’s alley.
“Raina is a great kid who is willing to challenge herself and is able to step out of her comfort zone to try new things,” Ledbetter said. “She is a phenomenal athlete stepping out of the world of competition cheer, which is also demanding, into wrestling.
“Her season was cut short with a hip injury and without skipping a beat she has stepped into other roles to help and support her teammates.”
Girls wrestling became a recognized sport by the GHSA in 2019 and that year saw champions crowned in 10 weights. There are currently more than 250 girls participating in wrestling state wide.
The Bryan County girls will be wrestling in the region tradition all classes tournament Friday at Effingham County High School. The boys will be wrestling in the Class A region at Screven County on Saturday.
Covington is one of five girls on the Redskins wrestling team. The others are Alyssa Burnsed, Kaylie DaSilva, Alexis Clark and India Mainer.
Because of injuries and being able to send but one wrestler per weight class only Burnsed and Mainer will be wrestling on Friday.
While not being able to wrestle is disappointing for Covington the experience, she said, is one she won’t forget and doesn’t regret.
“I messed around with it a little bit with my friends last year so this is first year to officially be on the team,” Covington said. “I took it as another challenge.
“This is a male dominated sport but you hear a lot about female wrestling and I thought it would be a change and something to be proud of, to have a title like that (wrestler).”
The fact Covington decided to hit the mat came as a surprise to those who knew her but she had the full support of those around her including parents Randall and Pamela Covington. “It was a completely different change for me,” Covington said. “It was so unexpected by everyone… my family, friends, friends of friends, everyone in my community. It pretty much empowers me to do things I usually wouldn’t.
“I went from being a girly-girl into going into a very hard-core sport,” Covington said. “Wrestling is super competitive. It’s a very individual sport and you really have to focus. It’s very different from the other sports and not in a bad way.”
From a physical standpoint wrestling, Covington said, is difficult in that you “have to 24/7 train your body, you have to maintain your weight class, practices are hard because you wrestle for two hours and then you have 30 minutes of conditioning.”
Another issue girl wrestlers have to deal with is wrestling boys. Due to the limited number of girl participants girls often find themselves wrestling against the boys in their particular weight class.
“It’s very difficult because genetically men are stronger,” Covington said.
“It’s very humbling but it keeps the drive in the back of your mind that you want to get better and beat them. It’s a lot harder than wrestling girls but it prepares you better to wrestle another female athlete.
“It’s very mentally challenging and somewhat scary because the boys are stronger. For the guys I think it’s mentally challenging because they don’t want to hurt the girl and you don’t want to get beat by a girl.
“Either way he’s in a pickle.”