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Had Caylee Fry been born a little later—or had youth sports inclusivity progressed a little faster—her high school athletics career might have included being crowned a wrestling state champion.

Instead, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh junior physical education major and Titans soccer defender will settle for helping those achieve what just a few years ago was unachievable.

Fry, who grew up in Loganville and was a three-sport athlete at Reedsburg Area High School, has spent much of her time since her sophomore soccer season wrapped in fall as an assistant coach with the Menasha High School wrestling team.

It’s a continuation of her lifelong involvement in the sport that only recently became more welcoming to female athletes.

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “The connections I’m forming with these girls, and seeing them be able to accomplish the dreams that I couldn’t—because it wasn’t available to me—is just amazing.”

Caylee Fry finished her sophomore season as a defender on the Titans soccer team last fall.

The first-ever Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) girls wrestling state tournament was held last year in La Crosse. This year it’s moved to the Kohl Center in Madison and will be held in conjunction with the boys tournament Thursday through Saturday.

Fry graduated high school in 2020, and throughout her four years of wrestling she competed only with boys and was the lone girl on her team of about 30. Despite the others’ advantages in testosterone and muscle mass, Fry said she probably had a .500 record.

“I think I was technically more sound than a lot of my opponents I wrestled in high school but I got overpowered 90% of the time,” she said. “I think if I could have wrestled girls in high school, I probably would have been a state champion, if it existed at that time.”

Becoming a Titan

Fry fell in love with wrestling and soccer as a child.

Growing up, Fry loved both wrestling and soccer. When it came time to choose where to go to college, she wanted a clear path to a kinesiology graduate program and an opportunity to continue playing soccer.

“Originally I planned on only wanting to play soccer in college but when I got a message from the wrestling coach I was like, ‘I could do both. That would be really cool,’” she said. “So I really think that’s what brought me (to Oshkosh) was the opportunity to do two sports that I had grown up loving my whole life.”

Her first year at UWO, Fry began practicing with the wrestling team. It turned out taking on a second sport and navigating the first year of college—and the pandemic complicating everything—was a bit much. Before the truncated wrestling season began, she decided to focus elsewhere.

“Wrestling is a sport where you need to be 100% mentally there, you have to love your team and you have to have all these great connections,” she said, “and at the time I don’t think I was in the right headspace to have given my all to the sport that requires your all.”

That likely ended her career as a wrestler. But her involvement in wrestling was only evolving.

A new opportunity

Another pivot came during that first year: She changed from a kinesiology major to physical education. That, of course, changed her future—but also has taken her to other opportunities. Alex Mueller, human kinetics and health education lecturer, had Fry in class and happens to be an assistant coach for the Menasha High School wrestling program. His brother also is the head coach.

Mueller remembered Fry as a Reedsburg wrestler and, with the number of girls interested in the sport in Menasha, asked her to get involved. There was some hesitation, she said, but eventually she thought she’d give coaching a shot.

“It was one of the best decisions I could have made,” she said.

It’s a big time commitment, with after-school practices during the week and tournaments on Saturdays. But the benefits have far outweighed any inconveniences—for all involved.

This season, there were times when there were more than 10 girls in the Bluejays wrestling program. Now there are about six or seven, Fry said, and they’ve been finding success. This past weekend four girls wrestled at sectionals and all four advanced to the WIAA state tournament.

Fry is one of two women on the coaching staff helping guide both the boys and girls on the Menasha High School wrestling team.

Erin Coppernoll, head coach of the Titans soccer team, said Fry has what it takes to be a great educator. She is always able to listen carefully and apply what she learns to improve, whether as a player or person. And Fry always carries a great “team mentality” wherever she goes.

“She is eager to improve upon the person and athlete that she is. I am sure she is hoping to do the same to those who she coaches,” Coppernoll said. “Caylee’s character is one that is helpful and understanding and she wants the best for everyone.”

Looking forward, Fry hopes to build a career in physical education, perhaps in a strength and conditioning role. She’d also like to stay involved in coaching. Having seen how girls wrestling has changed since she was first putting on a singlet, she hopes to continue to be a part of whatever the future holds.

“When I was in high school I think I was the only girl from my high school to have ever made it all four years through the wrestling program, let alone on varsity,” she said. “Seeing how its grown—it’s one of the fastest growing sports right now. I hope it keeps going.”

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