Cutting weight is part of wrestling, and at the moment, so is cutting weight classes.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association voted Wednesday, July 29, to begin a two-year pilot program that will eliminate two wrestling weight classes, moving from 15 classes to 13, during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.
The move is designed to improve the quality of competition by seeing fewer forfeits in dual matches. But here, in a part of the state featuring mostly smaller districts and often smaller wrestling rosters, most coaches are nonetheless critical of the new rules.
“For me, personally, and I think for our program, I’m not a huge fan,” Cooperstown/Milford coach Mike Croft said. “I like more weight classes better. The big argument is trying to reduce the number of forfeits, but I just like having more opportunities as a small school to let as many kids wrestle as possible.”
The 15 weight classes were 99, 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285. The new alignment would run 102, 110, 118, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 172, 189, 215, 285.
Section III, in which Croft’s Cooperstown/Milford team competes, voted in favor of the change along with Sections V, VI, VII, VIII, X and XI during the state wrestling committee’s vote on May 4. But Section IV Wrestling Chair Rick Armstrong voted against the motion, saying that Croft’s sectional neighbors to the south seem to agree with him.
“We poll our coaches to get an idea of what the coaches’ feelings are and I share that with the section,” Armstrong said. “The leagues vote and our coaches talk it over so they can hash out their differences, and the majority of our coaches were in favor of keeping the 15 weight classes.”
The movement to trim weight classes looked as though it would come from the national level as the National Federation of State High School Associates was set to discuss the matter at its Tuesday, April 28, meeting, but the rule changes announced after the meeting did not address weight classes.
As a result, the state’s wrestling committee made its own move. The motion, as voted on by the NYSPHSAA Central Committee last week, said it wanted to address the lower weight classes in particular.
“By recommending these weight classes it will provide schools with smaller rosters to compete in dual meets and bring back the competitiveness and focus of our dual meets,” the motion’s rationale read.
Armstrong suggested that the new legislation will not actually be effective in reducing the number of forfeits.
“They’re saying that reducing the number of weight classes will reduce the number of forfeits, but that’s not necessarily true,” Armstrong said. “It’s a numbers game, but anybody that’s good with numbers can make them look the way they want to and ignore the stuff they don’t want to see.”
Independent of Armstrong, Sidney coach Tim Stafford said he took his team to a dual tournament that only had two wrestlers in the 126-pound weight class, suggesting that forfeits do not only happen in the bottom and top weight classes.
“We keep losing. We lost 91, now 99s, and you hate to keep losing,” Stafford said. “It’s going to be tough on the wrestlers.
“With the 102s, there are pros and cons. Statewide there may be some forfeits, but there are some awful good wrestlers at states, too,” Stafford continued. “The bigger weights, I don’t like that at all. That’s tough because you’re going to have a jump to 189 and that’s a pretty big jump, so I would have liked to keep that.”
Croft questioned prioritizing the dual meets. He said that dual meets provide good opportunities to teach, but also said that the best way to give student-athletes a quality experience is to take them to tournaments.
“The dual meets are important, but more and more, getting on a bus and traveling an hour and a half to wrestle for 25 minutes is not super exciting and not a great experience with the kids,” Croft said. “I’ve tried to shift more toward tournaments and dual-meet tournaments where you wrestle four or five times a day just to make it more worthwhile.”
Veteran Walton/Delhi coach John Jackson lamented the decision, saying it eliminates opportunities rather than addressing the sport’s deeper issues.
“That’s the easy way out for the state. Instead of trying to build the sport and programs, it’s the easy way out,” Jackson said. “If that doesn’t work, what are they going to do next year? Programs need to be built. It takes a lot of time and effort and it needs to start at youth and modified levels.”
The NYSPHSAA rationale said that athletes not making the starting varsity lineup will have the opportunity to compete in a junior varsity or exhibition match the same day. It also noted that of the 719 students eligible for the 99-pound weight class last year, 532 were ninth-graders or younger.
Still, to Jackson, there are lost opportunities.
“By cutting the weight classes, that’s just kids that should have the opportunity to wrestle that don’t,” he said. “By cutting 99 they pretty much eliminated any younger kids from coming up. But in doing that, what you need to do is build the modified programs. I really think it’s going to hurt the sport in the long run.”