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Morris, on Swim Team, Hopes to Wrestle Again : She's Famous for 'The Pin' and Is Still Making Waves

March 12, 1987|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — "Oh, no, not her again" was the response when Clairemont High School students saw America Morris being photographed at a recent swim practice.

What had she done now?

America remembers America for being the first girl in state history to pin a boy in a varsity wrestling match. Although there are no national records kept, she may be the only girl to pin a boy in a varsity wrestling match anywhere in the country.

In the past year, Morris has used the confidence she gained in wrestling to deal with a time filled with disappointment. She didn't wrestle competitively this season because she could not make weight. Now, Morris, a 17-year-old junior, is a member of the Clairemont girls' swimming team, and her name may once again gain notice if she becomes an All-San Diego Section swimmer for the third straight season.

America was so named because her mother, Delia, from Mexico, thought living in America "was so beautiful" and she wanted her baby's name to stand out.

When Morris pinned Russell Cain with a half nelson 21 seconds into the second period of a match at Madison High School on Dec. 30, 1985, she went from being a girl with an unusual name to being a national celebrity. She even made an appearance on the "Tonight Show."

Her agent is currently negotiating with the networks to produce a two-hour movie about her achievements.

"I fear that the person portraying me will be a dog," said Morris, who is taking modeling classes. "If I portrayed myself, I would be real spunky and cocky. Yeah, I love being cocky."

The year after The Pin was not all bright lights for Morris. She was unable to maintain her wrestling weight of 107 pounds and could not beat out All-San Diego Section wrestlers at the 112- and 119-pound weight levels on the Clairemont team. She practiced with the wrestling team this past season but she did not compete in meets.

Toward the end of the season, Morris took three weeks off for personal reasons, which she did not want to discuss. She said she went on vacation with her mother to Mexico. Because she missed three weeks of classes, her grades slipped last semester. She is unable to swim in Clairemont meets until early April, when she will receive her new grades.

"When you get behind, it's a real drag," she said.

Morris is expected once again to be one of the top three swimmers on the Clairemont team.

At practice last week, senior John Steinemann, a member of the boys' team, said: "She's a better swimmer than a wrestler. Much better. She's a really good swimmer."

Morris agreed.

"They don't compare at all," she said. "I really excel in swimming as compared to wrestling."

Last season, Morris qualified All-San Diego Section in the 100-meter breaststroke and was a member of the qualifying 200 individual medley relay team.

But it is through wrestling that she became famous. Morris said the publicity after her historic pin lasted about seven months, then died down.

"I'm glad it was one big thing," Morris said. "Then it slowed down gradually. . . . I love it now. You learn to appreciate it."

Morris also learned to appreciate how difficult it is to make weight and how hard it is for a female wrestler to practice during the off-season.

"During the summer, I worked out," Morris said, "but I never wrestled because I didn't know where to go. I didn't want to wrestle at a gym where I might get beat up."

Then came the season. Morris continually struggled to make weight at 107. She had moved up to the next weight class and was forced to give up pizza or pins.

"I had a little weight problem," said Morris, smiling. She is always smiling. "I don't want to say what I weighed. I tried to lose it, but I couldn't go down. It got to a point where I couldn't lose any more."

She tried to stay off fatty foods, exercised even more vigorously than usual and dropped from around 118 pounds to 112. But that was it.

Not making weight disappointed Morris, who did not want last season's wrestling experience to be a once-in-a-lifetime novelty.

"Of course, wrestling is still fun," Morris said. "Not being part of the team hurt. Being a part of the team was the best feeling."

Said Jerry Knuppel, Clairemont wrestling coach: "She was disappointed to a degree. She felt a lot of pressure last year. This year, it was, 'What's going to happen now?'

"She is still lean and in good condition. But she grew. She wrestled just as well, but she was just not strong enough and was outskilled. She was skilled enough to show beginner's moves. It was just carrying them out against these bigger guys.

"It was difficult for her to compete at the higher weight level. She was in a tough weight division. Quite frankly, she knew she could not beat these guys."

Without matches, Morris still has her memories. For example, The Pin.

Morris still feels sympathy for Cain. "I tried to get his phone number," she said. "I wanted to talk to him and see if he was all right. If guys were still picking on him, I'd beat them up."

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