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Trail blazers

Vicksburg High sophomore Tirzah Butler practices her squat while the powerlifting coach Robert Erves urges her on during a practice at the school Wednesday. The Missy Gators will compete in a meet on Saturday starting at 10 a.m. at Vicksburg High.(Jenny Sevcik The Vicksburg Post)

[1/30/04]With her slight 118-pound frame and mousy voice, Tirzah Butler doesn’t seem like the kind of girl who could lift a refrigerator.

But she’s close.

Butler is one of six girls on the first girls powerlifting team in Vicksburg High history. The Missy Gators will be one of three girls’ teams at a meet Saturday at the VHS gym, the first of the season. Madison Central and Natchez will join Vicksburg for the 10 a.m. event.

Seven teams will compete in the boys’ meet, with Warren Central, Clinton, Indianola-Gentry and Port Gibson joining VHS, Madison and Natchez.

“They’re eager. They want to get better and they’re easier to coach in some ways than the fellas,” VHS coach Robert Erves said. “I don’t know if it’s because it’s the first year or whatever, but the schedule I have for them, they get in there and do it.”

The idea for a girls’ team began last spring when a petition was circulated around the school asking for its creation. Louisiana has a number of girls teams, but there are only a handful in Mississippi.

The petition generated enough signatures to start the program, but only six girls showed up for the first practice. They tried out for the team for a variety of reasons, from having friends on the boys’ team to having nothing better to do.

“I just needed something to do,” said Shannon Sullivan, a 220-pound freshman. “I have so much free time, I figured why not? Plus, I want to bulk up.”

Some of the girls had played other sports, and just wanted to try something different.

“If we start it, maybe some more (girls) will start going at it,” said Ronshina Scott, a 132-pound sophomore. “It’s good enough numbers for the first time.”

The girls who had played other sports had done some form of weight training, but nothing as intensive as this. The weight was far more than anything they had lifted before, and a couple of the events, like the squat and bench press, were completely new.

“Most of the time we would just lift the bar. We never squatted with weights,” Scott said, referring to her previous lifting experience.

The early workouts were painful, but they stuck with the program and got some helpful tips from their workout partners.

The VHS boys’ team, which is the defending Class 5A state champion, practices alongside the girls’ squad in the Vicksburg High football fieldhouse and helped teach them proper lifting technique for competitions. Vivian Smith, a 123-pound senior, was surprised by the level of cooperation from the boys’ team.

“If they see us doing something wrong they’ll correct us,” Smith said. “I thought it was going to be more of a criticism, like we don’t want girls down here,’ but it’s been a big help.”

Casey Younger, a veteran boys’ lifter, said he was impressed by the girls’ dedication.

“The girls are mostly built. I was surprised by some of them, but most of them are just athletes,” Younger said, adding that the girls’ presence in the fieldhouse has brought on some minor changes in the boys’ attitude. “You have to watch what you do and watch what you say.

“You have to be more respectful, because there’s ladies in the house.”

And on Saturday, they’ll be lifting it. Erves didn’t expect a lot in the way of results for the team’s first meet, especially since Madison Central and Natchez have established teams, but the Missy Gators were confident.

“I’m going to be kind of scared, but I have confidence in myself to get the job done,” senior 148-pounder Lakentra Anderson said.