Milana Pedigo was cut from the freshman volleyball team and needed something new, an outlet for her frustration.
She saw her dad, Kenny Pedigo, fight one time soon after. He bloodied his opponent’s nose in the ring, and it hit a nerve in the 14-year-old. She was hooked.
“Whenever I had bad days, I would come here and let it out on a bag or somebody’s face,” she said.
Now Milana has three fights under her belt. One was for a state championship. Another was for a regional title and a berth at the National Silver Gloves tournament starting at noon Thursday in Independence, Mo. She will need three wins to bring home the title.
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The Maize South High School freshman didn’t find a home in traditional high school sports in the Wichita area.
But she has found one in the ring.
“I remember when she didn’t make the team, she came out crying,” her dad, Kenny Pedigo, said. “The hardest thing I’ve had to do is try to give her a pep talk. Now look.
“Three years ago, you could hardly recognize her. She had her head down, had only one or two friends and didn’t talk to anybody. Now she’s getting recognition at school about the boxing.”
Kenny is the strength and conditioning coach at the Nico Hernandez Boxing Academy. He has helped Wichita’s most famous fighter become a champion and is helping his daughter try to do the same.
He said it has been a prideful process.
“I brag about her a lot,” he said. “It’s fun to watch her fight. She’s got a lot of skill already, and it’s boosted her confidence. She knows she can throw hands now.”
The Hernandez academy has become one of the best in the country — 2019 is a testament to that. Lewis Hernandez, coach of the academy, said six junior boxers are heading to the national tournament.
“Milana is different because she probably has the least experience,” Hernandez said. “She’s a tough kid. She’s big for her age. She’s pretty solid. She can do it. I think she’s got a really good shot at winning a national championship.”
Milana will be one of the first girls out of the academy to reach Independence. She won’t be alone. She is one of two girls to go this year from Wichita.
Hernandez said Milana didn’t have a lot of competition on her way to the national championships. There aren’t many female boxers in Kansas.
So Milana represents an important change in the sport.
“Right now, ‘girl boxing’ is at its highest peak,” Hernandez said. “If you’re a girl and you’re not involved, you’re missing out. It’s a good era, a good time to get in the door right now. It gives another opportunity for a woman. It ain’t just a man’s sport.”
Milana is still learning. She has only been fighting for a year. It wasn’t long ago she was in the ring trying to break through the threshold of punching her opponent in the face.
She cried at times, would get trapped in the corner spending the entire training session working to get back to the center.
On Thursday, she has a chance to put her name next to the greatest boxer to come out of Wichita.
“I know no woman has ever done this, so it means a lot to me,” Milana said.
National Silver Gloves Tournament
Where: Stoney Creek Hotel (18011 Bass Pro Drive) in Independence, Mo.
Live stream: https://www.ringside.com/live-stream