BOONVILLE — Her mother had seen enough. The repeated visits to the principal’s office and the constant backtalk had reached critical mass, and Twila Barnes wasn’t sure what to do with her daughter.
Her two sons had worked out at Eierman Elite Wrestling, a club in Fulton, for five years and owner Mike Eierman suggested Barnes enroll her daughter, Mariah Gary.
“I told (Eierman) she was having some discipline problems,” Barnes said. “He told me to bring her on in.”
Four years later Mariah Gary, along with her older brother Josh Curtis and her younger brother Tristan Gary, are proud members of Fulton High School’s wrestling team, which took on the Boonville Pirates on Wednesday night at Boonville High School.
Having traveled throughout Missouri and the Midwest through her childhood to watch her brothers wrestle for Eierman, Mariah Gary always wanted to get on the mat herself. However, despite her daughter’s impassioned pleas, Barnes resisted at first.
“She’s my only girl, and I wanted her to act like a girl,” Barnes said. “I wanted her to wear her hair pretty and wear her makeup.”
Mariah Gary’s desire to wrestle only increased as her older brother Josh Curtis got stronger. When Mariah Gary would act up in her early middle school days, her mother used to take away her phone as a punishment. When Mariah Gary would refuse to surrender the phone, Barnes would send Curtis to retrieve it.
“He used to use wrestling moves on me,” Mariah Gary said. “Somehow he’d always get the phone because I never knew what to do.”
But when her daughter’s behavior became “ornery” as Barnes described it, she took Eierman up on his offer and Mariah Gary became a wrestler.
The adjustment from the sidelines to the mat was not an easy one. At first, Mariah Gary didn’t take practice as seriously as Eierman would have liked.
“It was a big adjustment for her,” Eierman said. “It’s a tough sport, and I don’t know if she was prepared for how tough it really was.”
It didn’t take long, though, for Mariah Gary to begin to come around.
“After about 30 days I could see she was starting to like it and she started working harder,” Eierman said. “She started to turn around and realize it wasn’t play time anymore.”
Once she got over that hump, there were other obstacles. Being a female in a male-dominated sport like wrestling proved to be another challenge for Mariah Gary.
“At first I felt pretty discriminated against because I was a girl,” she said. “No one wanted to practice with me because if a boy loses to a girl, they’re going to get dogged on.”
It was then that her brothers picked her up and helped her assimilate into the wrestling culture. They would always be willing to practice with her in Eierman’s facility and even stay late and work with her.
“They’re really close,” Eierman said. “I liked seeing them help her in the practice room.”
Still, the fact that she has stuck with wrestling for Fulton High School has come as surprise to her brothers, who had their doubts when she decided to try out.
“She was sort of lazy,” Tristan Gary said. “She liked food, so she wouldn’t want to drop weight. She didn’t seem like the rough-type who would want to get on a mat and wrestle with some guy.”
Curtis thought it was a temporary thing, but she soon proved them wrong.
“She doesn’t take stuff from anyone,” Curtis said. “If she wants something, or if somebody gets an attitude with her, she’ll definitely fight back.”
Now, wrestling has become commonplace around the family’s living room. Arguments such as which XBox360 game to play or what to watch on TV are now settled by wrestling.
“It’s not playful,” Mariah Gary said of the living room bouts. “That’s just how we settle our arguments.”
Having three siblings on the team has created a support system when they compete.
"If they’re having a close match, if I’m not wrestling or at a tournament, then I definitely want to be by the mat, right with them trying to help them the whole way,” Josh Curtis said.