• Thomas Mims, Woodford Sun Sports

MaQuoia Bernabe recognized as ‘Trailblazer’ of WCHS wrestling

MaQuoia Bernabe’s resume speaks for itself. The 2020 Woodford County High School graduate will begin her collegiate career at the University of the Cumberlands as a three-time high school All-American, a fifth place finisher at the 2018 USMC Women’s Junior National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, and a 2020 Kentucky Wrestling Coaches Association state champion. On top of that, Bernabe and fellow senior Tanyea Ramirez are the first WCHS Lady Matjacket wrestlers to go to college on wrestling scholarships. On Friday, July 10, Bernabe added one more achievement to her ever-growing list when she was awarded the Michael Jackson Trailblazer Wrestling Award on the steps of WCHS. “It’s so weird because I’ve never had a plaque before,” said Bernabe. Now, she will have two. One of her own, and one that will hang in the WCHS wrestling room for years to come. “You blazed the trail and inspired a lot of girls in Woodford,” said Debbie Jackson shortly after handing the award to Bernabe. Jackson’s son Michael, the award’s namesake, has a connection to MaQuoia’s next destination. After his passing in a 2002 car accident, the Jacksons dedicated a piece of a large stained glass work at the University of the Cumberlands, which at the time was named Cumberlands College. Each section of the glass at the Grace Crum Rollins Fine Arts Center has a symbol representing the son or daughter of parents who had lost a child. Michael’s symbol, a star, rests near the top of the glass. There’s also a brick near the student union building’s flagpole dedicated in Michael’s memory. Jackson — who presented the award with her brother, Randy Cotton — later added, “We admired her courage and determination to compete in a sport that in the past has been dominated by male athletes.” Bernabe and Ramirez, both 2020 state champions, have been key assets in the growth of girls’ wrestling in Woodford County. It didn’t always come easy, however. After a rough freshman year match against a senior boy, Bernabe says she almost called it quits. “I said, ‘I’m not coming back. I’m going home right now. I’m calling my mom,’” Bernabe recalled. Instead, Bernabe persevered and has become a revolutionary figure in WCHS athletics, a seemingly no-brainer future inductee of the Woodford County Public Schools Hall of Fame. Currently undecided, but strongly contemplating a career in education, Bernabe suggested that she would enjoy the chance to return to WCHS and help advance the sport even further. “It’s still growing. We’re trying,” Bernabe said of the sport’s growth among girls. Adding, “I’m definitely coming back. They can’t get rid of me.” Brent Courtney, Bernabe’s coach, had nothing but praise for the wrestler. “She’s always been great to coach. Good work ethic. Smart. I absolutely loved coaching her,” he said before turning towards Bernabe. “If the rest of them had the work ethic you have, we’d be state champions year after year.” Courtney, one of Debbie Jackson’s first-grade students years ago, has a daughter also leading the girls’ wrestling movement in Woodford County. Ashley Courtney, class of 2021, became the first girl to win the Woodford County Invitational last season with a championship in the 106-pound class against mostly male competitors. Bernabe said that if she were to coach, she’d love to coach girls as an assistant, with Ashley as a head coach. Ultimately, Bernabe says she wants what many people want. “I just want to be stable in life, stable and happy.”

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