They are local pioneers: two female competitors in a traditionally male-oriented sport. Tristen Music and Madison Pickett are respectively the first and second female athletes to wrestle competitively at Pierce County Middle School. Music broke the gender barrier a season ago, and her friend Pickett followed suit this past season in what seems to be a growing trend in Bearville.
“Tristen and Madison are very hard workers,” PCMS wrestling head coach David Lanier said. “Tristen would go from our practice to another two-hour practice, and Madison would also go to extra workouts. Both girls always showed great sportsmanship and never complained no matter the outcome of their matches.”
Seventh grader Pickett competed in the 152-pound class in 2016-17. She notched a ledger of 6-11 during her rookie campaign, including four pins. She brought home a second place finish at the prestigious Bulldog Tournament, which determines seeding for the conference tournament, and subsequently placed fourth at the Southeast Georgia Middle School Athletic Conference tournament.
Music wrestled at 138 pounds, crafting a 6-9 record in her second season. The eighth-grader won four of those bouts via pin. She wrestled her way to a second place finish at the Bulldog Tournament and also earned second place honors at the conference tourney.
“Considering the way I and my older brother, daddy, and older cousins always rough-housed, I honestly didn’t think about it (being a girl),” Music said. “It didn’t faze me. I honestly treated the guys like they were my daddy. I wasn’t worried about getting hurt. I was worried about going out there and winning and not getting pinned.”
Holding her own among the girls had never been a problem for Music, a softball catcher for the conference champion PCMS Lady Bears and for the travel team Cage. She also throws shot and discus for the PCMS track team. And while she has been pursuing aspirations of a state wrestling title in February’s Team USA Georgia State Championships, Music’s journey to the mat was a testament of commitment and patience. She said her parents were initially hesitant about green-lighting entry into the male-dominated sport.
“I was always worried about Tristen being hurt,” Kisha, Music’s mother, said. “We kept giving her obstacles to meet, like getting her grades up, and she kept meeting them until we ran out of things.”
“I wrestled in high school and knew what she was getting into physically,” Wayne, Music’s father, said. “It’s the toughest sport there is. Boys are stronger than girls, and I was worried about her getting slammed or bent the wrong way. You would think the boys would take it easy on her, but they don’t, and they often don’t realize they are in a real fight until it is too late.”
Nearly three years after her quest began, Music’s parents finally caved to her wishes. She worked hard to shed 15 pounds for competition at the 138-pound weight class. In her first match, she lost to a male wrestler from Coffee. Since then, she has become a force to be reckoned with. Earlier this year, she squared off against another female wrestler, whom she dispatched within a mere 11 seconds. Music acknowledged the contributions of PCHS head coach Brandon Jernigan, PCMS assistant Terry Tarr, and noted area guru Rico Gilbert in helping her become a proficient wrestler.
“Almost all of my pins except for a few have been from the crossface cradle,” Music said. “It seems to work. And when I get choice of position, I tend to pick neutral. That’s because when it comes down to the last few minutes, if they are going to be stronger than me, I’m not going to be able to get off the bottom.”
Like Music, Pickett previously earned her stripes as a rough-and-tumble softball catcher, starring for PCMS and on the travel diamond with Southern Panic. Though a year behind Music, Pickett wanted to join her teammate on the mat during the breakthrough campaign of 2015-16. However, the chore of convincing her parents also took priority.
“Madison and Tristen were both going to try after softball last year,” said Stephanie, Pickett’s mother. “I didn’t want her to. But this year after Tristen did it, we let Madison do it.”
“Madison is very strong and athletic,” Stephan, Pickett’s father, said. “She is the strongest girl in the school. The very first match she got her first pin, so it was pretty exciting. When she comes out to wrestle, she wakes up the whole gym.”
With dreams of her own to cultivate, Pickett actually started out as scorekeeper for the varsity. That role afforded her the chance to watch her brother, Cameron Woodell, in action. She also got used to having her dad matside. Stephan Pickett assisted coach Jernigan with the high school team, but stepped down to work with the middle school this year
“When I grew up, I knew I wanted to wrestle,” Pickett said. “Last year I wanted to, but I got a little scared. Softball has always been my main sport, since I was 7 or 8, and it still is. Last year I decided I was going to wrestle, and my dad said my weight class was the hardest weight class. We were able to wrestle in the living room, and Cameron would teach me a move every day. During the season my dad and I would go to the gym and work on moves.”
Her self-professed signature move is the “cowboy,” one not part of the regular inventory of moves taught at PCMS. But it came naturally for the 5’5” Pickett, whereby she became adept at taking opponents to the mat from a standing position. She also relied upon a stern diet to get down from 160 pounds to the 152-pound weight class, a feat she attributes to her mom’s healthy offerings of meat and vegetables.
As January gave way to February, both girls wrapped the 2016-17 campaigns, and each had already begun to focus on softball. However, both grapplers say they look forward to continuing their wrestling careers. Each understands her role as a pioneer and stands willing to encourage the next girl who wants to pursue dreams of wrestling.
“I would tell that girl not to give up, to focus on that dream,” Pickett said. “Be who you are and never give up on that.”
Rising Star /Southeast/February 2017
Tristen Music & Madison Pickett
Pierce County Middle School
Written by: John DuPont
Photography by: Jennifer Carter Johnson