Wrestling: Coaches pushing back against decision from county to disallow competition

Hope still lingers for overturn

DENVER, CO - Niwot High School's ...
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DENVER, CO – Niwot High School’s Jovani Lopez wrestles Broomfield High School’s Tyler Carpenter during a 4A 285-pound quarterfinal match during the second day of the CHSAA State Wrestling Championships on Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Carpenter won the match.

Earlier this week, Boulder County Public Health decided not to approve the variances that would allow high school wrestling to compete in the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley school districts.

Upon hearing the decision, many in the wrestling community felt like their sport was under attack without understanding or data that would indicate wrestling is more dangerous than other sports. But they’re not giving up, and many coaches and parents are doing their best to convince BCPH to reverse its decision with Season B sports scheduled to begin practicing on Jan. 18.

“At what point do we understand that the mental well-being of our under-18 kids is more important?,” Mead wrestling coach Ty Tatham said. “USA Wrestling has also put out plenty of information that says wrestling isn’t any more dangerous or a higher risk of spreading COVID-19 than any other sports. So, we’re still holding out hope that they let us wrestle.”

With just nine days until Colorado’s wrestling season is scheduled to start, Tatham is one of many members of the local wrestling community who have reached out to health officials like Jeff Zayach and Dr. Chris Urbina. Several of those coaches trying to convince BCPH that wrestling isn’t any more dangerous than other winter sports like basketball and ice hockey said they are encouraged by the responses they have received.

“I at least feel good that they will revisit the issue,” Monarch wrestling coach Ezra Paddock said.

Coaches and parents are trying to convince BCPH on several points, including the idea that BVSD and SVVSD wrestlers now being allowed to compete for teams in neighboring school districts might produce more risk of spreading COVID-19. They also believe wrestlers would be able to compete in masks, like they currently are in Michigan and Wisconsin, contrary to one of BCPH’s stated reasons for not giving wrestling approval.

“While we fully support and encourage sports for both the physical and mental benefits, the very close contact and inability to mask while participating in wrestling make the sport high risk for transmission of COVID-19,” Chana Goussetis, a spokesperson for BCPH, said earlier this week.

Despite the significant close contact it requires, many local wrestling coaches also believe that wrestling is not a greater risk of spreading coronavirus compared to other indoor sports that compete with greater numbers at a time and for longer periods of time. Paddock also mentioned that wrestlers have a history of preparing to avoid spreading skin diseases and therefore understand how to compete hygienically.

There is also recent precedent for decisions such as this to be reversed, which gives the local wrestling community some hope. The fall football season was canceled twice before eventually being allowed to compete, and the Season B schedule was also recently moved up a week after initially being pushed back to an early-February start.

Other recent events, such as the call by the Arizona Interscholastic Association to cancel all winter sports and the much closer revelation that Mapleton Schools in the north Denver Metro area will not participate in Season B sports, would indicate that other areas could follow Boulder County’s example.

Whatever happens, Paddock said local coaches, athletic directors and wrestlers are expecting a final decision or at least some response early next week. If BCPH does not reverse course, coaches will then begin scrambling to find opportunities for their wrestlers to compete with other nearby schools in districts that are still offering wrestling, which they are allowed to do if their district has no wrestling, per state law. Those districts would include Jeffco, Adams 12, Brighton, Weld County and Thompson.

From a competitive and opportunity standpoint, wrestlers from the SVVSD and BVSD dispersing into nearby programs also creates issues for local wrestlers as well as the programs they would be heading to because of limited available roster spots. Many local programs will also likely lose their casual wrestlers as a result.

“Pretty much since we got the news, I’ve been reaching out to different athletic directors and coaches just trying to find the best situation for all our kids,” Paddock said. “Of course, we’d like to find a place where all our kids could go to stay together, which presents big challenges for our guys and also the incoming school. You’re dealing with potentially displacing kids at a certain school or finding a not great situation for our guys. Everyone has been great and there are all kinds of variations but our ideal option is that Boulder County Health changes its mind and our guys get to stay home and wrestle for their schools.”