Maria is 17 years old, from the Philippines, and in her first year of college. She has been a professional wrestling fan for about four years, starting to watch wrestling just before her first year of high school. Her very first encounter with wrestling was by chance: “There was a tie-in between a local resto here and WWE that they give this collectible cards after purchasing something. My dad brought home those cards, and then I was fascinated because I got the Trish Stratus one. I saw the showtimes and then I decided to go check it out.”
Her local community was not supportive of her interest. Wrestling was looked down upon and she was called a “tomboy” for being interested in WWE. She did not have a local community to talk to about wrestling, except her little brother, who began watching with her. Maria wanted a larger community and went online to find one. After trying different communities, she settled on the Wrestling Boards.
The Wrestling Boards offered Maria a community of people who were supportive of her interest and interested in her opinion and help. She also found fulfillment in participating in Over the Ropes, the forum’s fantasy wrestling federation. It was a place where she felt safe talking about WWE without fear of damaging her reputation or experiencing other negative social repercussions. She felt that being able to talk and participate with people who shared her interest in an online setting gave her freedom to completely express herself. It also offered the chance to explore an interest in creative writing by writing and editing for the fantasy wrestling group that was a part of this online community.
Maria had dabbled with creative writing in the past, but this was the first time she was writing for an audience and with a specific purpose. Every week she received feedback from the community about the quality of her work in terms of both content and form. Maria confided in her writing teacher about her enjoyment and participation in this fan community; he was the only teacher she told about her interest in professional wrestling. He encouraged her to join the school newspaper, which she did, and she wrote for it until graduation. She decided when applying to colleges that she would not go directlyfor a degree in creative writing; instead, she decided that it was more practical for her to choose a degree as a medical technician, in which field she could use her strong writing and grammar skills for technical writing and then pursue her creative writing on the side.
Maria pursued her interest in both writing and professional wrestling through her participation in Over the Ropes. She was able to develop skills through feedback from community members. Maria received feedback on the content and form of her writing from people with expertise in her area of interest, creating a space for her to pursue her interest in a strategic and skill developing way. Through exploring creative writing in this interest-powered, peer-supported structure, she improved her skill and realized her enjoyment of it, which led her to think of creative writing outside of Over the Ropes. Her writing teacher was able to help her connect her enjoyment of creative writing to a more technical form of writing (journalism) by encouraging her to join the school newspaper. Through her work on the school newspaper, she discovered the variety of applications possible for her well-developed writing skills. She explored the different avenues of writing until she found and settled on her current path. At present she is enrolled in a medical technical program, which utilizes her technical writing, and she is pursuing creative writing as a second major.
This piece republished with permission from the report, “Learning the Ropes: Connected Learning in a WWE Fan Community” written by Crystle Martin
Crystle Martin is a Postdoctoral Researcher for the Digital Media and Learning Hub’s Connected Learning Research Network at University of California Humanities Research Institute.
Illustrations by: Anthony Llewellen