New Weight Classes Prompt Outcry From Coaches

9:06 AM, May 11, 2011   |    comments
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Some of the most influential men in my life were my offensive line coach and my wrestling coach in high school.  Now, I can say with absolute assurance that both men had (or at least gave it a decent effort) my best interests in mind.  I went to a new high school so there were only a couple hundred kids around the school when I attended and I was the first kid to graduate who played football and wrestled for all of high school. 

You see, playing on the offensive line and wrestling are fundamentally opposed to each other as in the waning summer months would bleed into a fresh school year; I would be throwing back a couple thousand calories to get "big" for football.  As the sun began to set sooner and the West Coast's Santa Ana winds gave way to the crisp and cool winters of Southern California, it was a signal that I was going to be spending time working off the very "bigness" that I spent the months of April to October earning.

Since I was a heavyweight (and because my parents simply forbade me), I didn't have to worry about cutting weight, an action that is synonymous with wrestling.  Two other wrestling challanges to social norms aer ringworm and the public's general unease about how the sport is conducted (it's just two dudes rolling on the ground on top of each other!). 

My situation of eating whatever I wanted was extremely rare.  My teammates who had to cut weight to compete in lighter weight classes were miserable for the entire season.  It was a cruel cycle of wrestling in tournaments on Saturday, pigging out from after you make weight for the tournament all the way to practice Monday where they would find themselves 10 pounds over (I have an anecdote of a buddy dropping 17 pounds in three days), and then run, bicycle, wrestle, and any other physical activity you can think of all while eschewing normal food for water and a basic salad for dinner.

And when there were two guys who were the same weight?  That week's wrestle-offs to decide who would wrestle in what weight class might have well been held in the Thunderdome. 

The competition for the same weight class that each guy coveted became some perverted, "Lord of the Flies"-esque battle royale.  The winner would only have to cut a three or four pounds while the loser was either preparing for a night in the sweat room to squeeze out every ounce of water to wrestle in the next weight class down OR they were being thrown to the wolves in the next weight class up to wrestle someone much bigger and stronger and who was not spending 10 weeks starving themselves to oblivion. 

So when the National Federation of State High School Association decided to bump up 10 weights classes out of the 14, I was happy for my lighter wrestling brethren.  According to a press release from the NFHS:

"The 14 weight classes approved by the committee for 2011-12 are as follows: 106 (pounds), 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285. Three middle weight classes - 145, 152 and 160 - were retained, although they are 7-8-9 in order now rather than 8-9-10. The largest weight class (285 pounds) remains unchanged as well."

The same press release says the reason for the change is to better spread out participants in the sport nationwide.  But let's be honest: Students don't have to cut as much weight anymore, which makes mid-week wrestle-offs considerably less "do or die".  This is a good thing.  What is a bad thing is when I see coaches speak against the change. 

I have yet to find a perspective against the change that I can roll with.  Inching up the weight classes is a safety precaution and an insurance of whether a kid likes the sport.  There are plenty of wrestlers every year who drop the sport because of the extremeness that some take to cut weight. 

Coaches against the weight class changes sound just as outdated as coaches who protest the safer rules in football meant to reduce concussions. 

There's better technology and research that have revealed how nonsensical cutting serious weight can be.  That school of thought is in the same school district as the doctors who examine how concussions can develop depression, loss of memory, bi-polar, and loads more of scary conditions that can occur to someone's dome.

Allow me take it one step: adolescence is a window in our lives when our bodies are in constant flux, mainly in physical growth.  So when an adolescent is logging serious time in the sweat box and not at the dinner table, they are actively preventing themselves from reaching their potential physical development.

Now cutting weight is all a part of the sport.  Larger people cut two, maybe three weight classes because it's easier to win when you're stronger than the wrestlers who are more natural weight at a lighter weight class. 

The step forward the NFHS has taken to tweak the sport shows that governing body for these high school athletes has their best intentions in mind (I dare you watch a 16-year old boy that can't eat AT ALL  and tell me he won't rip your face off if you look at him wrong).  

That's all good and plenty, but the people that should really have the student-athletes best intentions in  should be the coaches.  I'm all for putting your team in the position to win and in no way do I pretend I'm a coach, but I do understand that the new weight classes are the sign of the times as high school sports are starting to take after their collegiate and professional ranks, and focus on preventing problems rather than reacting to them.       

It's puzzling bordering on disappointing to see these men being better at teaching how to shoot a double-leg takedown than showing how our kids can be healthy individuals.

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