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EYE ON THE PRIZE: Redbank Valley Eighth-Grader Iris Reitz Battles Back From Broken Ankle to Place Second at Junior High State Wrestling Tournament

FAIRMOUNT CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Iris Reitz sat in the doctor’s office in late August of last year, her left ankle broken and throbbing.

She wasn’t prepared for the news she was about to hear.

“You won’t be able to wrestle this year,” the doctor said.

A million thoughts raced through the mind of the incoming eight-grader at Redbank Valley. What did he say? Is this real? Can this be happening?

(Picture above, Iris Reitz stands on the podium after finishing second in the 119-pound weight class at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Championships/submitted photo)

Reitz had already made a name for herself on the mat with a runner-up finish at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Championships as a 12-year-old and then as champion last spring at 13.

It was as if she was in a nightmare. She tried to wake up. But when she looked to her father, Jeremy, and saw the sullen look on his face, the tears came. She couldn’t blink them all away.

Then another thought. What am I going to do about it?

That’s when Reitz made a decision.

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“It was pretty sad,” she said, “but I kind of knew in my head that that wasn’t going to stop me.”

It wasn’t the first time Reitz was told she couldn’t wrestle.

Four years ago, when the urge to strap in the headgear and slip on the singlet first hit her, she was met with skepticism.

Even from her own family. Even from her own father.

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Still, she persisted. And she was going to persist again, no matter the obstacles.

The injury had happened while Reitz was engaged in her other love: horses. She was riding one bareback on her family’s sprawling property when she was bucked and landed awkwardly on her left leg.

Three screws were inserted to stabilize the fracture. The prospects of recovering in time for wrestling season were grim.

Then a bit of luck, combined with her own tenacity, gave Reitz a break.

“I was supposed to have my cast on for two more weeks than I originally did, but I got it wet,” Reitz said. “So they cut it off and everything looked good. That kind of saved me. I went to physical therapy and did all my exercises and it ended up working out in my favor.”

How much of it was luck and how much of it was a subconscious plan?

“Well, I was at the beach with a friend,” Reitz said. “I mean, I tried not to get it wet, but it got wet anyway.”

With returning to the mat a strong possibility, Reitz went to work, pushing through the pain that still lingered because of a piece of bone floating around in the joint.

She ignored that, too — just as she had ignored the naysayers that scoffed when she first wrestled all those years ago.

Reitz made her return as an eighth-grader and really took off when the screws and the bone spur were removed during the season.

“It always kind of bothered me,” she said. “If I was running or jogging, I’d feel it. As soon as I recovered from that, I could just feel a big difference. I felt so good.”

That translated to the mat. Unencumbered and healthy, Reitz shined after the New Year, winning the Powerade Tournament championship at 117 pounds in early January.

On Sunday in Johnsonburg, Reitz was runner-up again at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Championships.

(Iris Reitz, top, dominates her opponent/submitted photo)

Reitz blitzed through the 119-pound bracket without giving up a point until the final, posting a first-period pin, a 9-0 major decision, another pin in 2:57 in the quarterfinals, and then a gutsy, 1-0 decision against Alexis Lauta of Corry in the semis. 

That set up a meeting a familiar face in the title bout against Neve O’Byrne of Garnet Valley.

Reitz was caught and pinned by O’Byrne to finish second.

It was a bittersweet accomplishment for Reitz.

“My goal is always to win, but I’ve wrestled this girl before in the state finals and I knew she was really good,” she said. “I just kind of went into the match knowing I had a 50-50 shot.”

Still, Reitz was happy with her performance this season, especially since she almost didn’t have one to begin with.

“My plan was to cut to 112 this year, but then I was doing well where I was at, so I decided to stay,” Reitz said. “This bracket this year was really tough. All my matches were really good. The semifinal match was really good — I only won by one point. It was special to make it to the finals this year.”

Her strength as a wrestler is clear — she’s nearly impossible to score upon. Reitz is tough on top, but is especially strong on the bottom.

“Neve is the only girl who has ever held me down on bottom, even in the boys bracket,” Reitz said. “I’ve definitely grown there. Since I was little, it’s always been one of my strengths, and even on top I’m OK. I struggled a lot on my feet and we’re still working on that.”

Reitz will have another chance in less than two weeks when she will see many of the same wrestlers she squared off against in the junior high state championships this past weekend.

Reitz will wrestle at the Keystone Girls State Championships in Redding, Pa., March 15.

She’s looking forward to it, not just to get another shot on the mat, but to see many of the friends she has made through wrestling.

“We’re all competitive, but it just seems like with girls, we always give each other a hug off the mat,” Reitz said. “We talk to each other because we end up wrestling each other almost every weekend.”

Reitz said part of that is the shared excitement for simply having an opportunity to wrestle.

It wasn’t long ago when a girl wrestler was like a unicorn — she just didn’t exist.

In 1990, only approximately 100 girls across the United States competed in high school wrestling. A girls’ wrestling team seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.

Now, there are 34,000 girls and in the ballpark of 6,000 female wrestling teams at the high school level. Pennsylvania last year joined the growing ranks of states sanctioning high school girls wrestling.

And Reitz jumped on that swelling wave when she started four years ago.

“I remember when I was little, we got my brother a wrestling mat in the basement and we were down there for Christmas,” Reitz said. “We were down there, just kind of wrestling, and I remember thinking, ‘This is kind of like my dream. I want to do this. I want to win.’ I’ve always wanted to win like my dad did. So kind of getting to live in my dreams is really cool.”

Jeremy Reitz was a state champion at Brookville and grappled at Clarion University.

Iris is certain her father is proud of how far she has come.

She is also looking forward to seeing where the sport can take her, especially since Redbank Valley High School formed a girls’ team this year and saw success.

“This year really showed me just how much I love wrestling,” Reitz said. “I’m going to practice all summer and try to wrestle freestyle and just practice hard to get better for next year. It’s so cool and exciting Redbank had a girls team this year. We had so many girls try out — I didn’t think that was going to be one of the things that would happen. It’s really exciting to see everything start to come together and so many people supporting it.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.