‘Grandma Mel’ Leads FAMU’s Wrestling Girls

The coaches call her grandma, her friends call her Mel, but everybody knows her as captain of Florida A&M’s women’s varsity wrestling team.


Melanie Andrade is a freshman, Biology pre-med student.

Andrade started wrestling her freshman year of high school. She was looking for a sport to participate in, when one of her friends suggested wrestling. At first, she was skeptical, but after she went to her first practice she was hooked.


“I had never seen anything like that before; I was always one of those kids that went straight from school and read books. I was not an athlete at all,” Andrade said. “When I saw what they were doing I was curious. They were working on techniques and moves. It looked so intense and I wanted to try it.”


Andrade said that wrestling is another world. The conversations are different in a wrestling environment. Weight management is the biggest difference.


“When you meet people in the wrestling world the first question you’re asked is how much do you weigh,” Andrade said.


Andrade moved around a lot in high school. She went to three different high schools and joined the wrestling team at each high school.


Andrade’s first wrestling team, Poinciana High School, wasn’t the experience she hoped for.


“I didn’t like the team I was wrestling on. The coach was really mean and I got beat every single match,” Andrade said. “I got beat bad. They would beat me in the beginning of the match. It wasn’t fun to me anymore.”


Poinciana high school was overcrowded, so they built a new school. Andrade and a couple of her teammates went to Liberty High School and wrestled for their new school.


“My friends and I went to the new school. It was the first year it opened and they didn’t have a team. They had a couple guy coaches with only five girls on the team,” Andrade said. “There were only five girls on the team: two from the old high school and three from the new one. I taught girls but I didn’t really know what I was doing.”


Her mom wanted to move to a bigger town, so she was transferred to Ridge Community High School, which didn’t have a girls wrestling team. She was the only girl on the team.



“The coach ignored me like I wasn’t there. I was on that team for my junior year,” Andrade said. “Some of the guys were talking to me and told me that a few girls came out and they just quit, that’s why the coach didn’t take me seriously until after a year of wrestling.”


FAMU’s wrestling program was dropped last year. To keep the program alive, Andrade recruited four to five girls for the team. Her teammates and coaches alike recognize her determination and leadership skills.


Thomas White, Andrade’s coach, gave her the title of captain because she leads by example.


“She influences them to work out in the morning and keep focuses on their studies,” White said.


Saundrina Smith, a first year pre-med biology student, has wrestled since high school. She is also Andrade’s best friend and teammate.


“She leads by example,” Smith said. “She isn’t going to tell you to run a mile if she isn’t going to run a mile. When I had to cut weight for a tournament, she ate healthy with me.”

For Smith, the level of commitment Andrade shows her teammates continues after practice.


“She helps me even off the mat, if I need someone to talk to, or help me with my work. She is not only a great captain but also a great friend,” Smith said.