Cassie Frankel seems an unlikely martial arts warrior.
The sophomore at West High heard about the Mixed Martial Arts Club from her chemistry teacher and decided to give it a try. The group meets Thursdays at noon, learning and practicing a variety of fighting styles, including boxing, wrestling, judo and jujutsu.
"I like that it's an individual sport because I'm not that athletic," Frankel says during a break in practice. "It's more about how your body works." She likes boxing best: "I feel really tough with the boxing gloves, even though they're pink."
The West High club, the only one of its kind in the state, has prompted questions about its appropriateness. Kirk Mefford, a West High chemistry teacher who sponsors the club, says one teacher called it "human cock fighting."
The West High School nurse, Lynne Svetnicka, while not opposed to the idea of the club, says the nurse's office sees one or two injuries, generally minor, every time the group practices.
"We shouldn't be doing things in school that cause injuries," she says. But, she notes, "We also have shop class and other things where we get injuries. We've got 2,000 kids. There are a million things that can happen in the school building."
Mefford calls the club "a way to get in shape and build self-confidence by learning self-defense." He says it draws a diverse mix of about 100 students: African Americans, Caucasians, Albanians, Latinos, women, people of all economic levels and even cognitively disabled students.
"It's kind of funny to say, but we're united through fighting."
Mefford would like to see similar clubs at other area schools, in part because "we have to compete against ourselves at this point."
Frankel acknowledges the controversy over teaching kids to fight. But, she says, "I think it's a good idea because if you know how to fight you're less likely to get hurt."