Oakleaf High seeks state championship in girls weightlifting as popularity of sport grows

Tony Salazar

Photo taken by Anthony Salazar

Since the FHSAA made girls weightlifting a sport in 1997, it has grown exponentially across Clay County and the state of Florida.

Clay County is home to many dominant female lifters and girls weightlifting programs. Six girls from Clay County won individual state titles last year, which is the most out of any county in Florida.

One of the dominant programs in the county is Oakleaf High School’s weightlifting team. Oakleaf’s program is led by head coach Ben White, who had seven years of experience as a boys weightlifting coach before he arrived at Oakleaf in 2016. White has seen firsthand how much growth girls weightlifting has had since he started. “I first started when we had less than 20 girls on the team. It’s been six years and we had a meeting today and there were 64 girls out there,” said White.

Traditionally known as a sport for boys, girls weightlifting has increased in popularity so much in Florida that more girls participated than boys in a significant meet. White said he judged a state championship meet that Oakleaf did participate in and met the person who made the electronic scorecard that they used, and she told White that they had 60,000 hits on their website. Roughly 70% of those were for the girls.

One of the reasons girls weightlifting has grown in Clay County is increased participation from girls who play a variety of other sports.

Ivy Gunn is a cheerleader and a track athlete who joined the Oakleaf team during her junior year. Gunn was not interested at first. However, her coach asked her to join the team, and she fell in love with the sport.

“I really did fall in love with the sport. It’s a lot of enthusiasm, fun, and positive energy that goes around in the weight room,” said Gunn.

Another multi-sport athlete on the Oakleaf team is Nya Russell. Russell plays soccer, runs track, swims and uses weightlifting as a tool to help her with the other sports.

“I just do a lot of sports, so I like to keep myself active. So weightlifting is something I can add into me being active just to help me for the other sports I have to do and help me prepare for it,” said Russell.

Another reason why girls weightlifting has grown is from word of mouth. Many girls on the Oakleaf team joined the squad because their friends persuaded them to try weightlifting. Caylin Volpe is one of the lifters on the team who joined to lift with her friends.

“I started weightlifting because my friends all joined and they were like, ‘Caylin, you should join it,’ and I originally was a little scared because I am the kind of person that avoids doing new things,” said Volpe.

With a full roster for varsity and junior varsity, White believes this is his best well-rounded roster since he joined Oakleaf and hopes that they can win a state championship as a team.

“We’ve had individual state champions; we’ve had district championships. We’ve got a county championship and it’ll be nice to get a state championship as a team,” said White. “In order for that to happen we’ve got to have multiple state champion individuals and a well-rounded group.”

The season officially starts on Oct. 31, according to the FHSAA calendar.

Click this link to for part one and this link for part two of the video version of the girls weightlifting program at Oakleaf High School

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I am a graduate of the University of North Florida with a major in communication with a focus in journalism and a minor in sports management.

Green Cove Springs, FL

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