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Oklahoma’s Olivia Brown named National Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award winner

by Jack Carnefix, National Wrestling Hall of Fame

STILLWATER, Okla. - The National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Wednesday announced that Olivia Brown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, is the 2021 national winner of the Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award (TSHSEA).

“I am honored to receive the Tricia Saunders Award,” said Brown. “Wrestling has given me both physical and mental strength. I have been able to travel to the different areas of the country to compete and to train with some of my role models.

“Now, I want to be a role model to other young girls so that they can pursue their dreams,” she added. “I want to thank my family for always supporting my goals and for teaching me to care for others, and also, my coaches for pushing me to be the best wrestler I can be.”

First presented in 2014, the TSHSEA is named for Saunders, a four-time World Champion and women’s wrestling pioneer. Saunders was the first woman to be inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006 and was inducted into the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011.

The TSHSEA recognizes and celebrates the nation’s most outstanding high school senior female wrestlers for their excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship, and community service.

“We are excited to honor Olivia Brown as the national winner of the 2020 Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award,” said Executive Director Lee Roy Smith. “This award and honor represents the Hall of Fame's pride in a young woman who has demonstrated a commitment to balancing her pursuit of excellence on the wrestling mat with academics and community service.”

The daughter of Michael T. Brown and Suzanne M. Caruso, Brown was an Oklahoma state girls champion in 2021 and 2020 for Broken Arrow High School. The top-ranked 200-pound wrestler in the National Girls High School Rankings, she will continue her wrestling career at Grand View University.

Brown was Miss Wrestling Oklahoma in 2021 and was named the Joey Miller Wrestler of the Year in 2020. She was a National Cadet champion in freestyle and folkstyle in 2018 and 2019. Brown finished second at the Folkstyle Nationals in 2019 and fourth in 2018 while finishing third at Freestyle Nationals in 2019 and seventh in 2018.

Brown received the John and Jonna Cockrell Award of Excellence in 2020 and was also named Most Valuable Junior Wrestler for Broken Arrow in 2020. She was Wrestler of the Year at Holland Hall in 2018. She was team captain for Broken Arrow from 2019 to 2021 after being team captain at Holland Hall from 2017 to 2019.

Brown also lettered in softball two years and in track for one year at Holland Hall.

A National Honor Society officer, Brown was AP English Student of the Year in 2019-20 and Magna Cum Laude in 2018-19 and Maxima Cum Laude in 2017-18 for the National Latin Examination. Brown placed second in Business Law and Ethics, sixth in Entrepreneurship and seventh in Quick Service Restaurant Management at the Oklahoma D.E.C.A. competition.

Beginning in 2017 as a core volunteer, Brown is very involved with BrightSpot Mobile Family Services, an organization that delivers free meals directly to people who live in food deserts, meaning there is no access to fresh food within three miles. During the pandemic, Brown walked miles to help deliver groceries and meals to those in need. She has also organized clothing drives and created personal hygiene bags for teenage girls while encouraging other teens to get involved and bringing them to volunteer. Viewed as a group leader by BrightSpot administrators, Brown helps set up monthly outreaches and interacts and assists residents. She also served on the Diversity and Inclusivity Council at Holland Hall.

Brown was named as the national winner of USA TODAY’s Female Wrestling Athlete of the Year on August 6.

For the third consecutive year, the Hall of Fame recognized a record number of TSHSEA state winners with 47, up from 46 in 2020, 35 in 2019 and 32 in 2018.

Women’s wrestling is one of the fastest growing high school sports with participation growing by 71 percent in the last two years to more than 28,000 female high school wrestlers competing across the nation.

Winners are evaluated and selected on the basis of three criteria: success and standout performances and sportsmanship in wrestling; review of GPA and class rank, academic honors and distinctions; and participation in activities that demonstrate commitment to character and community.

Twenty-four states have hosted an official girls championship and eight more are scheduled to host in the future. Hawaii was the first state to host a girls state championship in 1998 while Texas began its girls tournament in 1999. The number grew to six states by 2015 and has exploded in the last three years to 32 states.

States that are hosting state-sanctioned girls wrestling championships are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington. Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin are scheduled to host their first official girls tournament in 2021-22.

There are 92 intercollegiate women’s wrestling teams. The NCAA has approved “Emerging Sport Status” for women’s wrestling at the Division I, Division II and Division III levels and the NAIA also recognizes women’s wrestling as an emerging sport.

The Hall of Fame accepts nominations for its high school excellence awards from state chapters and coaches. The nominations are reviewed by a committee, which selects state and regional winners. The committee then determines the national winners from the regional winners.

All-Time National Winners of Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award

2021 - Olivia Brown, Broken Arrow High School, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

2020 - Nanea Estrella, Lahainaluna High School, Makawao, Hawaii

2019 - Emily Shilson, Mounds View High School, North Oaks, Minnesota

2018 - Alleida Martinez, Selma High School, Selma, California

2017 - Cierra Foster, Post Falls High School, Post Falls, Idaho

2016 - Katie Brock, Sequatchie County High School, Whitwell, Tennessee

2015 - Marizza Birrueta, Grandview High School, Grandview, Washington

2014 - Marina Doi, Kingsburg High School, Kingsburg, California

National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum

America’s shrine to the sport of wrestling, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1976 to honor the sport of wrestling, preserve its history, recognize extraordinary individual achievements, and inspire future generations. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame has museums in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Waterloo, Iowa. The Stillwater, Oklahoma, location reopened in June 2016 following a $3.8 million renovation and now features interactive exhibits and electronic kiosks, as well as the opportunity to watch NCAA Championship matches from the 1930s to present day. It also has the John T. Vaughan Hall of Honors where the greatest names in wrestling are recognized, including iconic granite plaques presented to Distinguished Members since the Hall of Fame opened in 1976. The museum has the largest collection of wrestling artifacts and memorabilia in the world, including the most collegiate and Olympic wrestling uniforms. Wrestling truly is for everyone and the diversity and accessibility of the sport continues to be highlighted through exhibits featuring females, African-Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latino Americans. There is also a library featuring historical documents, including NCAA guides and results, as well as books on the sport. For more information about the Hall of Fame, please visit
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