Even though wrestling is primarily a male-dominated sport, Unique Jones does not let that stand in her way. Coach Unique has served as a Coach Across America coach for the past year, teaching young girls the ins-and-outs of the sport of wrestling. Typically not a female-centered sport, wrestling has challenged Unique to find interesting ways to get her female students involved and engaged in the sport, while serving as an example of how a female can be successful in the sport. She has wasted no time teaching her students the value of teamwork, focusing on their goals and stepping up to a challenge. For Unique, sports have always been a constant in her life. Growing up, she played basketball, tennis, golf and lacrosse, and she was able to learn the importance of how to face adversity. When asked how participation in sports has made an impact in her life, Unique says, “they helped me stay on track and find balance,” when life was often chaotic.
During her junior year at the Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia, Unique was encouraged by friends to join the wrestling team, which was funded by Beat the Streets Philadelphia (BTSP). BTSP is committed to helping establish youth wrestling programs in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. Being the only girl in a house with six brothers, she was used to playing rough and competing, so when she had to face male opponents on the mat, her focus was always “just to win, regardless if they are a male or a female. I don’t like losing, so I just try not to lose. That’s just my mindset when I step on the mat.”
As a senior, just two years into the sport, Unique won the Pennsylvania State Title in freestyle wrestling for her weight class and advanced to the national tournament in North Dakota. She fell one win shy of the podium, but took away memories and lessons that would last a lifetime, and help her in her transition from student-athlete to coach.
After graduation, Unique was given the opportunity to coach two girls’ teams at local high schools through BTSP. As Unique shifted from a wrestler in the program to a coach in the program, she had an advantage that some coaches often do not have: experience in both roles. Unique attended an Up2Us Sports National Coach Training Institute, which provided her with training and valuable tools to help her reach her coaching potential. She found the Institute to be extremely valuable: “this training was helpful for me because it taught me to balance the roles as a friend and as a coach, which helps keep the kids motivated.” Unique went on to say that, as a new coach, “the training really helped me understand things more from a coach’s perspective,” showing her that strong encouragement from coaches goes a long way.
Aside from the coaching aspect, Unique sees the value that programs like BTSP bring to the community of Philadelphia. She sees firsthand how participants of the program shift their focus beyond just the sport of wrestling to academics and working toward being productive members of society. Unique has noticed this change in one student in particular, Kyla. Kyla began to visit the BTSP office on a regular basis, and was matched with a tutor to assist her with schoolwork, in addition to having Unique as her wrestling coach. Between learning wrestling and getting help with her homework, Kyla has been able to stay off the streets and avoid joining a gang. She is now in all Honors classes as a ninth grader, and was able to achieve this accomplishment with support and encouragement from Coach Unique and her academic tutor. Unique enjoys seeing the progress of her students, especially when she knows what the risks would be if they didn’t have this type of program in their life.
Currently a student at Temple University studying Kinesiology, Unique continues to wrestle with the school’s Club Wrestling Team. While she loves coaching the sport to young girls who look up to her, she also continues to love the thrill of competition - especially competing with, and against, men.
Thanks to Haley Word, a volunteer through our partnership with Humana, for helping us compose this inspiring story.