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League of her own: Lenape’s Gasper breaking barriers

Lenape senior Jade Gasper, a longtime competitive cheerleader, never wrestled until this season. Now she’s making history as the first female wrestler in school history to compete in the state tournament.

Jade Gasper, a lifelong cheerleader, decided to go out for wrestling last fall at Lenape High School, where both her father and uncle competed. Gasper took to the sport immediately and found success: she’s competing in the NJSIAA State Tournament in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall this weekend. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Jade Gasper doesn’t like looking back and wondering “What if?” 

Her younger brother, sixth grader Julian, wrestles. Her dad and her uncle, Joseph and Jeremy Gasper, both wrestled at Lenape. Although she followed her mom, Jeannette, into cheerleading from the time she was old enough to walk, she couldn’t resist head coach Chris Easlick’s invitation to try wrestling, a sport that began allowing girls across the state to compete for regional and state titles last winter.

“From the very first practice, it was apparent that Jade was tough and wasn’t afraid to mix it up,” Easlick said. “She won some early matches just on her toughness alone. But as the season has progressed, she has refined her technique and has become a serious competitor.”

Gasper was so quick to learn and have success at the sport that Easlick would joke with fellow coaches that she must be getting extra pointers at home, since she’d show up with new moves throughout the season. Gasper, who will study behavioral psychology at St. Petersburg College in Florida next fall, finished third at the South Regional tournament and enters this weekend with a 15-4 record (with 13 pins) and as the first female in Lenape wrestling history to advance to the NJSIAA state tournament.

Not bad for a girl who spends the majority of her time in competitive cheerleading.

“I am a Home Ec teacher; I don’t really pay much attention to other people’s perceptions and stereotypes,” Easlick said. “Cheerleading has been very beneficial for Jade’s quick success in wrestling. The gymnastics and tumbling in cheerleading teach body control, balance, and flexibility, all of which are important in wrestling.”

Gasper, who also credited sparring partner and Lenape junior Tamara Cordero with keeping her strong throughout the season, spoke with South Jersey Sports Weekly before heading to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.

SJSW: What does it mean to you to have the chance to compete for a state title?

Gasper: It’s exciting. Wrestling is a big thing for me; it helps you out mentally, physically and emotionally. I’ve put in the hard work for it.

SJSW: You’re making history here as the first Lenape girls wrestler to advance to states, too.

Gasper: It’s one of the best feelings to know that I as a girl can be somebody at Lenape. I never thought I could make it this far, so when I did, and you see how proud you’re making your family and how proud you’re making your coaches, it’s a good feeling. I hope other girls come out and try it now that they’ve seen that I could do it.

SJSW: You’re a role model for young girls. What would you say to 8- ,   9- or 10-year-old girls about the sport?

Gasper: I would say don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything. Because a lot of people (might say), ‘Oh she’s a girl, she can’t wrestle. She can’t do what the guys can do.’ But we were all conditioning the same amount, putting the time and energy into it.

SJSW: So in getting into the sport, you saw that your little brother could do it, and knew you could, too, right? [Laughs]

Gasper: Yeah. [Laughs]. Basically. It’s in my blood, I guess. 

SJSW: Do you wrestle your brother?

Gasper: Yeah. [Laughs]. We do moves on each other. He (comes up to my chin). He’s tough. 

SJSW: What made you decide to go out this year?

Gasper: There was never a big girls team here. And I’ve had Easlick for a teacher for three years now and we were just talking about it; he said he wanted a girls team so I said I’d go try it out. I did and I fell in love with it. I just like the challenge.

SJSW: That third-place match at Regions sounds kind of stressful. Win and you go to states, lose and you go home.

Gasper: Yeah [Laughs]. I just went right into it and pinned her (in the first period). It was the best feeling I’ve ever felt, just looking over at my dad and Easlick; it was a pretty good feeling. The crowd, I just took it all in. ‘I did it.’

SJSW: So did you pick up wrestling right away?

Gasper: Well I pick up things pretty quickly. I can watch something and then play it in my head and then do it. 

SJSW: Does cheerleading at all help you in wrestling?

Gasper: Yeah, it does. Most people think cheerleading is chants and stuff like that, but in competitive cheer you work hard; I put hours into it. I’d go right from wrestling to cheer. And it’s a lot of leg strength, a lot of arm strength. So it helped me out. And especially with conditioning, putting your mental state there, you have to be mentally stable and you have to know what you’re doing.

“I am a Home Ec teacher; I don’t really pay much attention to other people’s perceptions and stereotypes,” Lenape coach Chris Easlick said of Gasper’s unique path to wrestling success. “Cheerleading has been very beneficial for Jade’s quick success in wrestling. The gymnastics and tumbling in cheerleading teach body control, balance, and flexibility, all of which are important in wrestling.” (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: What’s your favorite school subject?

Gasper: Psychology. And I like English, too.

SJSW: Best book you read lately?

Gasper: “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

SJSW: Favorite teacher at Lenape?

Gasper: That’s a hard one. Easlick is obviously one of my favorites and Ms. Megan Laffey (Algebra).

SJSW: Any TV shows you’re bingeing?

Gasper: I like “Riverdale.”

SJSW: Best movie you’ve seen lately?

Gasper: “Jumanji,” the new one is good I just saw that.

SJSW: Who’s the best athlete at Lenape?

Gasper: The best athlete, I would say …

SJSW: There’s a football player who I interviewed here a few months ago …

Gasper: Xavier (Coleman)?

SJSW: Yeah, he’s pretty good.

Gasper: He’s one of the best. Do you know Clyde Washington? He’s good, too. 

SJSW: Let’s say you advance to the state finals this weekend and you could pick any song to enter the mat to. What’s your music?

Gasper: I’d pick the song we use at Lenape (“Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider, from the cult wrestling movie “Vision Quest.”)

Jade Gasper enters state championship weekend 15-4 with 13 pins in her first year of wrestling. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)
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