Eighth grader Kayla Cox has gotten used to people telling her she is good at things, particularly when she's on a wrestling mat. In a ranking full of older high school girls, Cox, a student at the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School on Columbia Road, is ranked number seven in the country.
At least one father asked her to take it easy on his son. She didn't listen. The kid went down.
It was her grandmother that got her interested in it, says her mother Dorothy Cox.
"Her grandmother was always watching wrestling and one night Kayla had a nightmare and some wrestler had put me in a headlock," she laughs. "I told her if she was going to watch that stuff she had to do it in her bedroom, and so every time the wrestling comes on she went to her grandmother's room."
"I'm a big fan of WWE," is how Kayla, 14, puts it.
Now she beats everyone she goes up against. She has never lost to a girl, but it's the boys she likes to face, despite her mother's objections.
"I don't like wrestling girls, there is too much drama, because no matter what, if they are winning or losing, they start crying," says the 125 pound, 5'4" Kayla. "Boys aren't always bigger, but they are all muscle so it's hard to get a hold of them."
Her mother remembers showing up to see her wrestle for the first time and having parents come up to tell her how good she was. The match she saw didn't take long.
"I remember she got this boy in a headlock and just sits down and looks up and is smiling, and the other parent's are just like, 'She's just playing with him' and I'm like 'Kayla, just get it over with.'"
Dorothy Cox wasn't athletic growing up - she liked to do hair, not sports. But under Kayla's influence, she has become immersed in sporting culture. The two have taken multiple trips to see professional wrestling shows, and mom has chaperoned some of the Frederick school team's trips. Every time she watches a match, someone stops to tell her how great her kid is.
Kayla is also a highly touted basketball player. She loves it almost as much, and can play with the boys in either sport. But both are winter sports. At the next level she'll likely have to make a choice.
"I don't know what I'll do," she says now.
Until then, Kayla is focused on living an eighth grade life. Magazines want to talk to her about wrestling and high school coaches want to talk to her about basketball but she found the time to run for class president and win and, according to her, teachers tell her she is one of the best students.
And unfortunately, her mother wants her room cleaned. "My friends all say, 'Don't mess with Kayla, her mom is crazy.'"
Despite the attention she attracts for her skills, it's not always easy being able to pin most of your classmates to the mat.
"Sometimes the other kids tease me and ask if I'm really a boy," she says, quickly pointing out they are joking. "It's not insulting, it just shows that as a girl, I can be good, and I can do what you do to."