Sports have a unique way of bringing together individuals from vastly different backgrounds.
In this area, there might not be a better example of that than the Everett High School girls wrestling team.
The Seagulls have a remarkable variety of nationalities in their program, with wrestlers hailing from eight different countries around the globe: China, Haiti, Iraq, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal and Vietnam.
Those eight wrestlers were each born thousands of miles away from Everett. They each come from different cultures and upbringings.
But throughout the winter, they can be found practicing together in the Norm Lowery Gymnasium mat room or competing for the Seagulls at various locations around the area, bonded by wrestling and the pursuit of a common goal.
“It’s really amazing that we can all come together,” said Everett senior Sophie Averill, who was born in China and adopted by American parents at 11 months old. “It’s kind of like a huge little community of ours, and it’s really cool that we can have a bunch of different nationalities all come together and pursue one thing.”
Some of the internationally born wrestlers, such as Averill, came to the United States at young ages. Kirete Manjidred, born in the Marshall Islands, moved from the tiny South Pacific nation at age 1. Zahraa Al-Rubaiawi moved from Iraq when she was just a few years old. Craydi Moen, a senior, also has spent the majority of her life in America, having moved from Mexico at around age 8.
Others have come here more recently. Annie Carnelli, a first-year freshman wrestler from Haiti, left her native country only about a year ago. Wiam Elmoubaraki, a sophomore from Morocco, came to America just a few years back. Vietnam-born Chau Tran and Nepal-born Sumina Gurung moved within the past five years or so.
Everett wrestlers and coaches said their program’s incredible amount of diversity is a tribute to the Seagulls’ welcoming and inclusive culture.
“It allows them to embrace who they are, and at times, to rise above their challenges,” Everett assistant coach Jeff Russell said. “For those who come from different parts of the world, undoubtedly there’s the question: Do you fit in? Are you going to fit in here?
“And there’s no question about that on Everett High School wrestling. You belong here. This is your team. You’re a fully fledged part of it.”
Everett senior Monica Garcia echoed those sentiments. Garcia was born in the United States, but has both Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. She’s one of at least a handful of American-born wrestlers on the team who have family from a foreign country.
“The team is really awesome,” Garcia said. “I love everybody’s personality. They’re very welcoming. It doesn’t matter what background or religion you are.”
While building the Seagulls’ girls wrestling program, Everett head coach Rick Iversen has played a key role in drawing international wrestlers.
Iversen, a National Wrestling Hall of Fame member, was a longtime Marysville Pilchuck High School coach and also coached at Western Washington University and Arlington High School. A strong proponent of girls wrestling, he came out of a brief retirement to take over the Everett girls program in 2016.
The Seagulls’ numbers grew from 18 wrestlers in Iversen’s first season to 34 in his second, 40 in his third and 42 this winter. And this season, a notable contingent of those are from foreign countries.
Iversen said he attends Everett High School lunches each fall in an effort to encourage girls to turn out for wrestling.
“I didn’t go out and intentionally recruit immigrants to my team,” Iversen said. “However, I did intentionally go out and look for bright kids. I see these kids walk up — their eyes are bright, they’re intent, they’re polite. And so I always ask them, ‘Would you like to wrestle?’ And the next thing they say is, ‘What’s wrestling?’
“But they get into it and they love it. And then it gives them a home that fosters them in this new environment.”
Averill is one such wrestler who discovered a strong passion for the sport after encouragement from Iversen.
“He’s really determined in his recruiting, and I thought, ‘Why not just try it out?’ And I love it,” Averill said. “I love how intense the sport is, because it’s completely different from other (sports).
“It’s based on not only the physical strength, but also the mental,” she added. “And I feel like it really shows you what you can accomplish.”
The Seagulls have had considerable success at tournaments this season, winning team titles at both their own Lady Classic and the Highway 9 Championships in Arlington. They also tied for second place at the Lady Knights Invite at Mariner.
Yet what stands out most are the bonds teammates have formed with one another.
“I’m not a captain or anything, but when you ask me about someone on the team, I could tell you like their whole life story, because we share with each other a lot of stuff,” Tran said. “That’s how we got really close.”
Russell said that’s the beauty of sports.
“It’s great to watch them support one another,” Russell said. “Athletics is like a universal language. You’ve got a common goal. So regardless of where they’re from or their appearance, they’re working together as a team.
“It’s a great message,” he added, “especially in the world right now where Americans are arguing about who really belongs (and) who are the true Americans. And they’re right here on this mat.”