Promoting girls wrestling at home and across the nation

Long-time Homer wrestling coach steps into lead role at middle school

Homer Middle School coach Tela Bacher first began coaching in Homer schools 16 years ago. This is her first year as head coach. The assistant coach for Homer is Tristian Cook. Bacher is also an assistant coach at Homer High School.

Bacher said she likes to do everything she can to support girls wrestling and wrestling in general. She was one of the founding members of a national nonprofit called Wrestle Like a Girl. The goal of the program is to show women and girls the sport of wrestling to become leaders in life. The program started in 2016 and since then women’s wrestling in high school has been the fastest growing high school sport in the nation, according to Bacher.

“We work with a lot of female leadership development, support and growing girls wrestling and more opportunities for girls in the sport in general. There’s also an organization that I co-founded with some coaches with some others in the state called Alaska Girls Wrestle and we use wrestling there as a foundation for change,” Bacher said.

The Alaska organization spends a lot of time bringing more girls into the sport of wrestling and supporting them while they are there. The organization provides women’s sports bras to reduce equipment barriers to athletes or “navigation” clinics for girls who might want to wrestle in college. They also offer summer and fall empowerment wrestling camps and educational clinics for girls of all ages in remote parts of the state as well as in the Anchorage Matanuska-Susitna area. The first camp took place in March 2022.

“We really want to bring high-quality clinics and wrestling to rural communities across Alaska. We’ve provided camps in communities like Barrow, Dillingham and Newhalen to grow and bring support and opportunity for girls wrestling,” Bacher said.

Alaska Girls Wrestle is supported locally by the Homer Rotary Club.

Bacher has a long dedicated background to women in wrestling that started at Homer Middle School when she was in school here approximately 25 years ago. She feels strongly about promoting opportunities for girls wrestling when she looks at her own history in the sport.

When she attended college, there were four schools with wrestling programs available for her to participate in. Now, there are more than 150 colleges that offer the opportunity, she said. It provides an opportunity for girls in Alaska to attend school out of state when they might be financially challenged and that’s what the organizations that she’s a part of are striving to support, she said.

“It gives the girls a chance to be successful and build a team around them when they might not get it in another way. When people have a team to be a part of, it’s more likely that they will stay in college and be able to advance their educational skills. And, they can take the skills that they learn in wrestling, like building self-confidence, and apply it throughout their life,” Bacher said.

When Bacher started wrestling in Homer Middle School, there was one other girl on the peninsula who had tried it. The principal of the school was supportive of it and so was the coach who, at the time, was Steve Wolfe.

However, the KPBSD Board of Education initially said no to a female competing on the wrestling team, she said. Another teacher at the time, Deb Lowney, informed Bacher of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, including athletic programs.

Bacher wrote a letter to the school board and they let her practice with the team but she did not compete.

Her participation in wrestling and sports advocacy has gone far and she is passionate about it. As the Wrestle Like a Girl website explains, “on the wrestling mat, Tela has represented Team USA on world teams and was a member of the first women’s wrestling team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.”

“I think middle school is a great time to help people see who they are and who they are going to be and I’m really glad I get to be involved with that through wrestling, with both girls and boys. It’s pretty cool,” she said.