Greensboro Arm Wrestling League, Fierce Philanthropists
They might not be who you think of when you picture philanthropists. Or arm wrestlers.
But they are both.
There’s a chemist, a social worker, two librarians, a copyeditor, a nonprofit worker, a few teachers, more than one city employee, an insurance wholesaler, several single moms and two furniture manufacturer employees.
They’re just some of the ladies of the Greensboro Arm Wrestling League (or GRAWL), an all-volunteer group that throws ladies-only arm wrestling tournaments to raise money for local nonprofits. Since its inception, GRAWL has raised more than $15,000 for Greensboro nonprofits, especially those that serve women and girls.
They call it “fierce feminist philanthropy.”
Three times a year, local women don crazy outfits and bare their biceps for a cause.
The group was founded in 2016 by Rachel Scott, an academic coach for a middle school and the co-owner of Geeksboro Coffee and Beverage Company, Meagan Albert, a social worker, and Amanda Lehmert Killian, a city employee. It’s one of dozens of league like it across the country.
“I saw the potential to borrow from this concept as a way to help local charities, being that Greensboro was a city of amazing women and feminists who could support something as cool and bold as ladies’ arm wrestling,” Scott says.
GRAWL events – or GRAWL brawls – aren’t like any fundraiser you’ve ever attended. They are high-energy, fast-paced tournaments with elements of cosplay and fantasy reminiscent of professional wrestling. Only in this case, the wrestling is all real.
“You do not have to be super strong or intimidating to arm wrestle with us,” says Mel Umbarger, a GRAWL leadership team member and a senior communications specialist with the NC Justice Center. “Some are in it for the competition, but just as many are in it for the costumes, the fundraising, or the fun and fierce friendships with an amazing group of women.”
GRAWL’s pro-women, supportive environment has a way of making introverts and the anxiety prone demolish their personal comfort zones. Each woman comes up with her own stage persona and crafts her own outfit. Many choose to be powerful and glamorous.
“What I have seen and heard from many members of GRAWL is that, while they might not have felt hardcore before joining, being a part of this organization and stepping out of their comfort zone for the benefit of community, they have grown and found strength within themselves they didn’t have before,” Meagan says. “So you don’t have to be hardcore to join, but you might find that after a while in the group, you’ve become one.”
The lady wrestlers may be the center of the GRAWL universe, but the group’s work would not be possible without many other volunteers of all genders – 70 in all just this season – and talented professionals who have donated their time. Emcee Matthew Cravey, referee Shane Umbarger, and Lee Budkey, aka DJ 87, are at the center of every show. Photographer Becky VanderVeen helps the women transform into their stage personas from behind her camera. She also captures all the action at the events, helping the league promote what it does.
Thanks to these volunteers, and Geeksboro donating its space for free, 100 percent of ticket sales and online fundraising for every brawl goes directly to the nonprofit.
“All GRAWL volunteers and wrestlers have become like a family of weird, introverted-but-also-extroverted folks who have similar passions revolving around glitter, hot glue guns, and inclusivity,” Rachel says.
Wrestler Liz Skeen said, “My life would be so different — and much more boring — if I hadn’t joined the league. I can’t speak highly enough of the individuals that comprise this group, and knowing that you’re making a difference in your community is an incredible feeling. It’s not just about arm wrestling.”
Want to check out GRAWL? The next event is GRAWL-o-ween, a Halloween brawl to benefit the Greensboro Mural Project, at 8 pm this Saturday, at Geeksboro. Tickets at $6 at the door. Or donate online now.