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Weight debate in wrestling

Coaches believe regulations need to be revisited
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Four years ago, high school wrestlers would work out in sweats and trash bags if they were desperate to lose weight. In 2006, however, the deaths of a few college athletes prompted the National Federation of State High School Associations to crack down with new regulations. Limits were put in place to curtail the unhealthy weight-loss methods putting wrestlers at risk. The sweeping changes have since altered the sport. Some of the most significant changes include restrictions on how much weight a wrestler can lose per week, mandatory hydration testing and minimum body fat requirements. The minimum body fat limits for boys are 7 percent for boys and 12 percent for girls. A wrestler whose natural body fat composition is below the minimum must have a doctor verify that number. Based on height, weight and body fat percentage, each athlete is designated with a lowest-possible weight class and a regulated weight-loss plan. It is also expressly forbidden for wrestlers to wear heavy clothing or anything other sweat-generating item to lose weight. Colfax High School wrestling coach Dusty Kodet remembers during his wrestling career what he and his teammates would do to drop a few pounds. “Before you would do anything you could to make weight,” Kodet said. “It was the down and dirty way to do things. Now it is a lot healthier for wrestlers, but I think it does take a bit of the self-determination out of it.” Although his wrestlers may not be trying to lose 10-15 pounds in a week anymore, Kodet said that doesn’t mean the binge-purge cycle is extinct. “They still do a lot of purging,” Kodet said. “They will diet, diet, diet and then indulge themselves. That is just human nature. We don’t want to regulate what we eat.” Kodet also said that wrestling has been improved because the athletes are healthier. One of the new aspects contributing to that is a 2-pound growth allowance for each weight class. This is especially critical for teenagers who are still growing and may be gaining weight naturally. When Pioneer Valley League Commissioner Bill Flake was Placer High’s wrestling coach in the 1980s, his rules for cutting weight were simple. “The ticket as a wrestling coach was making weight,” Flake said. “But if a kid wanted to wrestle in a lower weight class, I made them bring me a note from their mother.” Flake wanted to ensure parents were aware of what their children were doing and whether it was healthy to lose weight. Lincoln High wrestling coach Michael Maul has also seen how the new requirements have changed the sport over the years. He speaks from his coaching experience as well as his days as a wrestler. Maul started wrestling in the second grade. “The regulations are good in theory but flawed in practice,” Maul said. “I think we should revisit the issue now that we have had four years and decide what we can fix.” Maul would like the practices to be re-evaluated with input from coaches, rather than the final say going to bureaucrats who may not be on the mat every day. Some of those changes might include wrestlers being given the opportunity for re-assessments in lower weight classes or mat-side weigh-ins. “Some kids realize that if they wrestle at a lower weight-class, they could be more competitive,” Maul said. “They also get locked into weigh-ins and sometimes their match isn’t for a couple of hours.” During his time as a wrestler, Maul said most athletes had no problems with the previous rules. He has always encouraged healthy methods of weight management, even before the new regulations came to be. This year, the association made very few changes to the rules. Some included stricter regulations on what wrestlers could wear during weigh-ins as well as a more cautious approach to the risk of concussions. Referees who believe a competitor may have sustained a concussion can now remove the athlete from a match. Although the new regulations have made wrestling a healthier sport, Kodet and Maul both believe there is room for improvement and that weight management should remain a topic of conversation. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com