Making “herstory” on the mat

PAL wrestler poised to compete as first female from Philly on PA Women’s National Team

Setting precedents: Tatyana Ortiz practices takedowns with PAL teammate, Steve Foster. Ortiz will be the first female from Philly to compete on the PA Women’s National Team in June. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

Tatyana Ortiz is no stranger to making history.

A junior at Mariana Bracetti Academy, Ortiz became the first female wrestler to qualify for the District XII AAA tournament her freshman year, prompting the Philadelphia Catholic League to make an exception to a rule not allowing a boy to wrestle a girl.

With one rule pinned down, Ortiz kept on pushing.

This year, Ortiz placed fifth at districts, becoming the first female wrestler to qualify for the PIAA Northeast Regional tournament.

Once again, she wrestled a male and once again, a rule had to be amended and a waiver had to be signed by the parents’ of her opponent.

She’s currently ranked fourth in the District 12 106 weight class.

But soon, she’ll set foot on her most prestigious mat yet.

Ortiz will compete at the USA Wrestling Girl National Duals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June.

She’ll spend much of her time preparing, like she has for the past three years, in Port Richmond.

Ortiz, 17, followed her cousins, Leo, Angel and Reynaldo Garcia, to the Beat the Streets PAL Wrestling program at Belgrade and Clearfield streets about three years ago.

And while an all-female program has been created in that time, she continues to practice for both programs.

“My cousins were bothering me about it and were saying I should try it,” she said. “And, the old coach at Mariana Bracetti said since I was always fighting with guys in class, I should try wrestling. And, so I did and I liked it.”

Aside from enjoying the sport, Ortiz found an outlet for her anger in wrestling.

“People would always say, ‘Oh, you’re a girl, you shouldn’t be wrestling,’ or ‘You’re a girl. You’re not strong enough to beat the boys,’ And, then I realized girls can do this, too,” Ortiz said. “And, I stopped fighting with guys in school and competed against them on the mat instead.”

Ortiz isn’t the only one who believes in her own ability to compete and succeed.

Her younger sister, Julie Ortiz, 10, also wrestles at PAL and looks to her as a role model.

“Tatyana was the first girl to go to districts and she got me to go to PAL, too,” Julie said. “And, she taught me moves and how to get out of moves at home.”

Fellow BTS PAL wrestler Steve Foster, 16, can testify firsthand of Ortiz’s ability.

“I got pinned,” he said, referring to a preseason match against her in October 2017. “She’s very strong.”

Ed Schneider, head coach for PAL Wrestling, has had a front-row seat to Ortiz’s success.

“In the past few years during offseason training, she’s trained Freestyle and Greco wrestling and has made great strides each year,” he said. “She finished this year’s high school season qualifying for the Northeast Regional tournament and she continued training after winning or placing at high-level tournaments. Her ultimate goal is to be a Fargo, North Dakota, Greco and Freestyle qualifier, with hopes of getting on the podium.”

And while Ortiz has earned the respect of her peers at PAL, she’s also caught the eyes of coaches at the state level.

“Her placement brought recognition from the PAWF chairman, Joe Stabilito, who put her name in a pool to be selected for the 2018 PA Women’s National Team,” Schneider said.

Schneider told Ortiz to check her email a few weeks ago and she didn’t see anything at first.

A few minutes later, an email from Stabilito came through.

“I’ve worked so hard for this, but I was so surprised,” Ortiz said. “I’ve wrestled people who have been wrestling since age 3, and I’m just this girl who came a few years ago and wanted to wrestle. And it’s amazing because it’s something I was hoping for and it came true.”

Ortiz plans to attend as many practices as possible, refining her signature moves, a lat drop and an arm throw, to prepare for June.

“My moves, my style, my attack,” Ortiz said, sharing her mindset approaching tournaments. “I say it’s my match.”

Fighting off demons from a rough childhood growing up in “The Badlands,” her words are soft-spoken, but there’s a conviction that’s grounded in her desire to be more than a statistic.

“Up until this point, the way my life has been, being in foster homes with my brothers and sisters,” she said, “I feel, a lot of people think that children who live lives like that aren’t going to be successful. And, I just wanted to show people that just because you lived this type of life doesn’t mean you have to continue this negativity.”

And while her sights are set on Tulsa, she hopes to wrestle in college and qualify for the U.S. World Team trials to participate in the Olympics.

And, she wants her story to inspire future generations of female wrestlers.

“More girls should join the sport because it strengthens you physically and emotionally. It’s something different for girls, but it helps build confidence and overcome your weaknesses.”