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High school wrestling season in limbo after health departments urge delay or cancellation

High school wrestling season in limbo after health departments urge delay or cancellation

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Hamburg take down

Michael Schaefer from Lancaster wrestles and defeats Shawn Tobin from Hamburg during the 113-pound match at Lancaster High School.

Western New York counties have approved the start of moderate- and high-risk high school sports, provided schools adhere to state guidelines, however in a statement Wednesday, the health departments of five counties advised against holding a wrestling season. 

State officials and the state Department of Health on Friday issued guidelines for allowing high-risk sports in New York to begin their seasons Feb. 1. The state left it up to local health departments to determine final protocols for teams to return to competition.

High-risk winter sports are ice hockey, basketball, competitive cheerleading, wrestling, football, lacrosse and volleyball. 

Section VI officials are scheduled to meet Thursday to determine how to proceed with the wrestling decision. 

"In the interests of limiting risk and protecting the health of athletes, their classmates, households, and coaching and teaching staff within schools, WNY health department leaders strongly recommend that interscholastic, intramural and amateur wrestling teams and leagues cancel or postpone their winter 2021 seasons to a later date, when community transmission of Covid-19 is significantly lower. Coaching staff and parents should consider promoting individual training and distanced group exercises," the health commissioners of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties said in a joint statement. 

The statement said wrestling requires close physical proximity for an extended period of time and masks cannot be worn because of choking hazard. It also cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published Tuesday that summarized a large Covid-19 outbreak associated with a wrestling tournament in December 2020. In studying a meet with wrestling from three counties, the report noted "hundreds of contacts, significant losses of in-person learning days, suspension of all winter indoor and outdoor high school athletics in one county, and one death resulting from multiple exposures during this wrestling tournament." The statement said a similar situation could be replicated in Western New York. 

One area coach, however, disagrees.

“I did read the report from the Florida tournament," Amherst wrestling coach Dennis Bauer said. "I think it’s a jump in my opinion to say no wrestling when the event they were describing was a 10-team event from multiple counties. We hadn’t even decided how we were going to conduct our season. There were no decisions made as to how many teams can go to an event."

Bauer said the community doesn't want to catch the virus, but also believes there's a way to allow wrestling to happen safely, especially in Western New York, which has shown the ability to respect social distancing rules.

"I’d just like to be able to work with the kids in our room and get them to wrestle each other and then wrestle another team in a dual," Bauer said. "I think that’s something they should consider. To put a blanket statement that wrestling will not happen wasn’t necessary because they didn’t explore if they could do dual meets with fewer teams and wrestlers.”

Falconer/Cassadaga Valley wrestling coach Drew Wilcox noted every other state in the country has wrestling with very few issues, including nearby Pennsylvania.

"We were all set for Monday," Wilcox said. "They had the green light yesterday and today’s the red light. These people in these positions need to make a plan and stick to it. ... I’m extremely disappointed and I’m sick of adults putting these kids on a roller coaster ride. It’s not fair to them.”

Under guidelines from the state, indoor facilities are limited to 50% capacity and two spectators are allowed per player, but Section VI is not allowing any spectators at any indoor events.

Face coverings, social distancing and enhanced disinfection efforts are required. If an athlete, coach or referee receives a positive test, all in-person team activities may be paused for a minimum of 10 days. 

“Since the governor’s announcement on Friday, I have been in contact with my colleagues in the other Western New York counties, school superintendents, athletic directors, parents, state health department officials, Section VI officials and so many more to make sure everyone had a clear understanding of the guidelines and what to expect should we move forward with these sports,” Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said in a statement. “Based on those discussions, I am confident everyone understands the risks involved and the steps that need to be taken to mitigate that risk. And with that, I am giving approval for these sports to move forward.” 

“After extended internal consultation and discussion among Finger Lakes and Western Region County Health Officials, it has been determined that higher-risk and moderate risk sports may proceed in Genesee and Orleans counties in accordance with New York State guidelines,” Paul Pettit, director for the Genesee and Orleans County health departments, said in a statement.

In making the announcements, the counties cited several factors that local health officials will continue to monitor:

• Whether there is a more transmissible variant of Covid-19 identified in the area.

• Local rates of Covid-19 transmission or rate of positivity.

• Local ability to monitor and enforce compliance.

Under the current calendar, basketball, ice hockey and wrestling would be held Feb. 1 to March 27. Fall II sports, which are football, volleyball and competitive cheer, would be held March 27-May 15. Spring sports, which are baseball, softball, lacrosse and track, would be held May 10 to June 30. While there is some overlap, it will only affect those schools that are playing deep into the postseason.

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