By JARED BELL
Kennedy Blades never intended to wrestle.
As a young kid, Blades competed in jujitsu but had trouble with takedowns, so her father, Saul Pulido, took Blades and her younger sister to Martinez Fox Valley Elite wrestling club to help them become more effective in jujitsu.
“We basically joined wrestling just to learn takedowns,” Pulido said. “But then she became really interested in wrestling.”
Blades quickly fell in love with the sport and what happened next made history.
After she switched to wrestling, Blades became better and better as she won multiple state titles as a youth before she made history at last weekend’s IKWF State Tournament when the 12-year-old Blades won the 115-pound Novice Division to become the first female to ever win an IKWF state championship.
“My state title shows that girls can do anything if they set their mind to it,” Blades said. “Girls are strong and some of them are stronger than boys. Girls can beat boys.”
Her title made everyone take notice as she became the most-popular person at state.
“After I won, I had moms come up to me and tell me that I’ve inspired their little girls, and some little girls have even told me that, too,” Blades said. “It’s been pretty cool.”
The championship also proved that a girl can be better than boys.
“When she first started, she was quiet and in the back,” said Jose Martinez, one of Blades’s coaches and the director of the Martinez Fox Valley Elite wrestling club. “But then I saw her starting to beat up the boys and she came alive.
“She comes to practice every day and all year around. She’s one of the first to come in and the last to leave. It’s been amazing.”
However, it hasn’t always been easy competing in the male-driven sport as Blades has faced some resistance from her male opponents who haven’t always wanted to wrestle her.
“It’s actually happened quite a few times as I was growing up,” Blades said. “Some people just didn’t want to wrestle me, but when I actually wrestled them I’d beat them and they realized that I’m not that bad of a wrestler.”
The title was just another highlight on her wrestling journey, which began when she was just seven years old.
After Blades won a state title or placed at state every year since was 8, she entered last weekend’s state tournament as a favorite and expecting to win, although everyone involved understood it would be far from easy.
“I knew she had a chance to win a title, but at state so many things happen and there are so many variables,” Pulido said. “There were also a lot of people who said, ‘Hey, you could be the first girl to win,’ so she felt a little pressure, but she handled it very well.”
En route to her state title, Blades pinned two opponents and earned a tech fall and a major decision over two others to make history.
“After I won, so many thoughts were going through my mind that I wasn’t really even thinking about (the history) right away,” Blades said. “But once I realized what I had done, I was so happy, and when I saw so many people standing and cheering for me it meant a lot. That was the greatest feeling ever.”
Following her victory, Blades received a standing ovation, and received another larger and loud ovation when she received her medal and bracket board.
“I was surprised by the positive response,” Pulido said. “I knew our club would be cheering loud because everyone supports and respects all the girls, but when everyone stood up that was amazing. Even our coach said he had never seen anything like that before. And me neither. It was an awesome feeling.”
Her title became the talk of the wrestling world and became popular on social media, including on Illinois Matmen’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
As of Thursday morning, her post on the Illinois Matmen Facebook page received 1,600 likes, has been shared a whopping 551 times, and has reached nearly 100,000 people.
“After I won, a lot of people wanted to tell me, ‘Good job’ and to take pictures of me,” Blades said. “Some people even wanted my autograph. I didn’t know it’d be that big of a deal.”
Nearly a week later, people are still talking about her title.
“Our club was fortunate to have six seventh-grade champs, but if I had to pick just one I would’ve picked her to win out of everybody,” Martinez said. “I know that may sound cruel, but she really deserved it.”
Blades, who also wrestles folkstyle and freestyle, will step up to the IKWF Senior Division next year and plans to wrestle in high school.
“After she won the Bantam state title, people told me, ‘You know, it’s going to be different next year as kids mature,’” Pulido said. “And I always say, ‘Yeah, I know.’ Then she placed fifth last year and they told me, ‘Wow, Kennedy did really well, but too bad next year the kids will mature,’ but she won this year. Now I’m hearing it again about the Senior Division. She’s been wrestling elite tournaments for her whole wrestling career, so the Senior Division will be nothing new. I expect her to do well.”
Blades’s reign as the only female to win an IKWF state title may also be short-lived as her younger sister, Korina, wrestles and is already a state champion as well.
“I love rooting for her and it’d be awesome if I had a sister who also won an IKWF state title,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully, we can both win next year and become the first sisters to win titles together.”
Given all they’ve been through and have accomplished so far, should anything else really be expected?
“I think it’s a possibility that (Korina) could win next year because she has a lot of talent as well,” Pulido said. “It would be awesome, and I’ve told them that’s what I want them do. I encourage it, and they look forward to the challenge.”
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared