E.A. Sports Today

Awaiting guidance

Wrestling coaches await best practices memo from state to plan their seasons; for now, no more than four teams allowed at any venue

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Alexandria coach Frank Hartzog is “hoping” there will be a high school wrestling season this year. Former Oxford and current Arab coach Kyle Routon doesn’t see “why we wouldn’t.”

Apparently there will be a wrestling season this year, but with COVID-19 still raging some adjustments will have to be made as high school athletics move indoors for its winter season.

Wrestling coaches around the state have been waiting for the AHSAA to provide guidance for their sport. Word is on the way. A best practices memorandum was approved by the Central Board of Control Thursday.
The big takeaway is there won’t be any mega-team tournaments, at least until the policy is reviewed again near the end of the current calendar year. The state is recommending no more than four teams gather in any particular venue.

Under those guidelines, at least two big events in Calhoun County – Alexandria’s Grappling in Death Valley and Weaver’s Gene Taylor Memorial Tournament – would be eliminated. The county wrestling tournament generally takes place right after the first of the new year.

“Ultimately we just need to be thankful that we’re playing and having the opportunity to,” said Marvin Chou, the AHSAA assistant director who oversees wrestling. “A lot of states didn’t play fall sports. Some of them delayed and now they’ve come back after they’ve seen it can be done.

“Indoor sports are going to be a little more difficult. We need to be thankful, we all need to work together to find a common goal, and that’s to get to the end of the year.”

The formal document is expected to be posted at a the AHSAA website either later today or first thing Friday morning.

It would mark only the second time in its long-standing history the Gene Taylor would not be played. It was postponed a couple years ago because of snow.

“It’s disappointing if that’s what they decide,” Weaver coach Andy Fulmer said. “The big picture is we want to have a season so if that’s what best for our season … I’m in favor of what’s going to get our upperclassmen, especially our seniors, their senior year and a chance as state and things like that.”

In lieu of tournaments Fulmer is considering two four-team weekend quads. Hartzog’s Plan B consists of a four-team dual with the Valley Cubs, Oxford, Jasper and Bob Jones.

The Alexandria coach wondered how the ruling might impact the Super Regionals at the end of the season and if this wasn’t a perfect opportunity to return the regionals to its old format of separate venues.

Football and volleyball have been impacted by COVID this fall. Two football teams in Calhoun County – Jacksonville and Weaver – forfeited two games each because of the virus and Anniston announced earlier this week it was forfeiting Friday’s game with Handley for precautionary reasons. Five of the seven Calhoun County Schools system volleyball teams have been quarantined for two weeks, including Ohatchee on the eve of its area tournament.

“Football is the big tell, there’s definitely been some hiccups there,” Hartzog said.

Still, wrestling is the closest-contact sport of the season with athletes in direct contact with each other for as much as six minutes at a time. But as Hartzog pointed out, wrestling “has been a sport that was already so aware of hygiene,” and that could work in the sport’s favor.

But trying to predict what decisions will be made is like trying to predict the outcome of the upcoming U.S. Presidential election.

“Whatever side you want to take to COVID and spin it in the direction of what you think, it’s like arguing LeBron James and Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all time,” Routon said. “You can argue all day long.

“I can sit here and say this is why we should be able to (wrestle), but somebody else can come back and give me facts about wrestling about why we shouldn’t. It really depends on what side you want to be on. You’re going to have facts and arguments behind both of them.”

The coaches also were seeking some clarification on the protocols to sanitizing the mat after each match. They were uncertain if that means cleansing the mat after each individual bout, which obviously would extend the length of the event, or after the completion of each 14-bout match.

Chou said the state recommends sanitizing mats at the completion of each team match. Some coaches are considering using two mats and alternating their use.

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