There may have been other area female athletes that impacted more gold this year to one extent or another who were also worthy of this honor.
But for Wagoner’s Lexi Miller, her gold run, over two seasons, laid a foundation as a pioneer in one sport for years to come.
That thought was posed to the recent graduate and this year’s Phoenix Female Athlete of the Year.
“I live my life as if some little girl out there is watching me,” she said. “Everything I do, I’m asking myself how can this moment impact somebody like them.
“It’s 2021. It’s pretty awesome to be able to say you’re a pioneer in something new.”
She also is a pioneer in another way — she’s the first female from Wagoner to win the honor.
In February, Miller repeated as a state champion at 107 pounds to cap her high school career. She got a two-point takedown then a near fall for a 5-0 first-period lead and cruised to a 13-2 win over Jordan Blair of Bethel at 107 pounds.
Miller finished her season at 20-6. The loss was Blair’s first in six matches and was a similar outcome to the 17-7 win over Blair at this weight a year ago. Miller opened the day by pinning Tell Taylor of Hinton in 1:43 and then Carime Johnson of Jay in 35 seconds. Blair also had two wins by pinfall.
This title, though, was the first to be sanctioned. Last year’s was a trial balloon put up by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association in a sport where, while girls have in the past wrestled, they’ve had to battle the boys for hardware.
Miller battled like that starting from grade school. There were wins she would get in middle school and even high school against boys. There were also wins by forfeit against boys who refused to wrestle her.
“The only girls matches she had this year were when she got to regionals and state,” said her father, Freddie Miller.
Lexi was one of six kids to pass through the Miller household. Her father would take one of her brothers, A.J. Floyd, to wrestling when he was in junior high.
“Lexi would go and watch and say to me, ‘I can do this,’” Freddie said. “It wasn’t big for girls then. They weren’t getting the exposure that they are now but I was like ‘yeah you can do anything you want to.’”
A couple days later, they’re headed out the door to practice, he recalled, and out pops Lexi in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt — her uniform.
“I kind of giggled and said ‘come on,’” he said. “She hasn’t left the wrestling room since.”
Wrestling boys in elementary was taken with a grain of salt.
“It did make it difficult when she got into junior high and high school and you see it immediately with the boys. They’re embarrassed, and friends are going to give them a hard time,” he said. “But the ones around here who have been here as long as she’s done it, they respect her as much as any boy they step on the mat with.”
Her coach, Micco Charboneau, saw those outcomes, as well as how his prized female approached them.
“She wrestled Jayce Caviness of Stilwell twice and lost,” Charboneau said of the runner-up this season at 120 pounds.
“The first time, I think it was a dual match and I tried to give her an out. She looked at me and said ‘I’m not going to look like a —‘, then went out there. She was more nervous wrestling girls than boys. I talked to her dad about that and he told me she’d say no one expects me to beat the boys and everyone expected me to beat the girls.’”
Lexi was an advocate for girls getting the chance to compete for their own medals. When that time came, she was confronted with a decision.
“Her dream was to qualify for boys state, whether she placed or not,” Freddie said. “When they decided to give girls their own side, the stipulation was they couldn’t attempt to qualify in both boys and girls.”
Lexi knew what she had to do.
It’s those times she thinks of girls like Kimorah, a girl who trained in Tulsa at the same location she trains, and makes a study out of her role model. She took note how Lexi has a ritual of changing singlets every match and at times, wearing mismatched shoes.
“Her mom told me she picked up on that because of me,” Lexi said, the emotional impact of that obvious in her voice.
“I didn’t have a lot of female athletes to look up to growing up. To know what I mean to her, that’s something.”
Malcolm Rodriguez, himself a two-time Male Athlete of the Year with two state wrestling championships who also quarterbacked three state champions, filled some of the inspiration gap for Lexi.
“I once heard Malcolm say ‘I’m a small town kid with big city dreams’ and that kind of always stuck with me,” she said. “It didn’t matter what town you came from, you can be as big as your imagination. I’d like to think I can do anything I set my mind to and I’m capable of letting the world know my name.”
After winning her first title as a junior, she was going to get the chance to let the world know who she was at a tournament in Estonia last spring. But COVID-19, which fortunately for her didn’t shut down sports here until after she’d wrestled at state, did succeed in wiping out her European trip.
It also put a dent in her training for the future Central Methodist University scholarship wrestler.
“A lot of people weren’t training in that time, but to me, training isn’t just about practice,” she said. “When you’re at practice, everyone practices. It’s what you do when no around and that’s where I think I kept my edge.”
Freddie converted one of the empty bedrooms into a training room — something made convenient by Lexi being the last of his six kids in the house. The room includes a mat, a treadmill and weights. Adorning the walls is a cork board of clips of world and Olympic champions as well as medals she had earned, and the brackets of tournaments she’d conquered.
“We’d impressed on all our kids to find something to occupy their time, be it sports or whatever,” Freddie said of him and his wife, Tawnya. “COVID made it a challenge to find those to train with. I’d go in there and help her and spar with her.”
It paid off with the first OSSAA-sanctioned state title, and a permanent spot for girls on the mat. Not to knock the start of that foundation, set one year earlier.
“I worked to have a sanctioned state championship and I won’t take anything away from anyone who won it last year,” she said. “Whether it was a sanctioned tournament or not it’s still a state championship.”
Who knows. Maybe Kimorah will mimic her trip to the top of the podium soon.
THROUGH THE YEARS
2021 — Lexi Miller, Wagoner
2020 — Lexy Keys, Sequoyah
2019 — Lexy Keys, Sequoyah
2018 — Lexie Conley, Porter
2017 — Elexis Watson, Muskogee
2016 — Aaliyah Wilson, Muskogee
2015 — Katie Kirkhart, Hilldale
2014 — Leslie White, Fort Gibson
2013 — Randee O’Donnell, Tahlequah
2012 — Taylor Jordan, Midway
2011 — Nana Wallace, Fort Gibson
2010 — Hannah Hamilton, Muskogee
2009 — Kera Smith, Gore
2008 — Angel Goodrich, Sequoyah
2007 — Brennan Miller, Fort Gibson
2006 — Kendra Dean, Fort Gibson
2005 — Angel Goodrich, Sequoyah
2004 — Jamillah Reed, Okay
2003 — Shae Moore, Oktaha