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State Dept. of Health doesn’t recommend wrestling be allowed this winter

Connecticut’s Department of Health (DPH) issued new, updated guidance late Monday on sports activities for private, municipal, interscholastic, youth and adult sports leagues during the COVID-19 pandemic and doesn’t recommend that wrestling be held this winter.

Wrestling is classified as a high-risk sport by the state and the DPH doesn’t recommend practices or any matches be held.

Indoor individual one-on-one training, aerobic conditioning and non-contact skill development drills could be allowed with modifications, perhaps masks.

Wrestling and any other high-risk sports – notably football — was already cancelled through January 1 thanks to an executive order from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont issued last Thursday.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has been waiting for DPH’s recommendations on winter sports and plans to make a decision on winter sports at their CIAC Board of Control meeting next week on Nov. 17.

On Thursday, the CIAC postponed the start of the winter season indefinitely. Practice was scheduled to begin Nov. 21. The CIAC hopes to provide more guidance following its upcoming Board of Control meeting.

In the fall, the CIAC followed DPH guidance to cancel another high-risk sport – 11 vs. 11 tackle football.

Vermont and Massachusetts have already cancelled their wrestling seasons this winter. In Maine, wrestlers can drill and hold practices but competition is still on hold.

The New England high school wrestling championships were cancelled, too. The Founders League has cancelled all winter sports – including wrestling. Five of the league’s 11 schools participate in wrestling – Loomis-Chaffee in Windsor, Avon Old Farms, Hotchkiss School in Salisbury, Taft School in Watertown and Trinity-Pawling in Pawling, N.Y.

New Hampshire is planning to hold a wrestling season beginning in January.

“I’m disappointed for our seniors,” Southington High coach Derek Dion said. “I can’t say that I am surprised. It’s a dangerous (virus). The thing is we have to play by the rules and if those are the rules, we will have to abide by them. There isn’t much we can do about it.”

The CIAC’s wrestling committee came up with some suggestions to safely practice and hold some meets. The committee forwarded their suggestions to Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the CIAC.

The recommendations have not been made public at this time. Nonnewaug coach Dave Green, who is on the CIAC wrestling committee didn’t share any specific regarding the recommendations, but said that a normal wrestling practice is already broken up into small groups or cohorts depending on their weight.

“I might have my three 106-pound wrestlers and my 112 (pound wrestler) in a single group. They’re not going to wrestle any of my bigger guys,” he said.

Region 14 Superintendent Joseph Olzacki already sent out a memo to parents in October saying that Nonnewaug would not be fielding wrestling or cheerleading team this winter or participating in a boys swimming or ice hockey co-op program. Green said if the CIAC allows some wrestling that he would try to meet with Olzacki to change his decision.

“We don’t want anyone to get sick but I would like to see kids have opportunities in all sports,” Green said. “But you have to look at what is happening and be cautious.”

Wrestling tournaments are still being held around the country. USA Wrestling recently hosted the Senior Nationals in Iowa. Everyone in the arena was instructed to wear a mask, including wrestlers before they competed. USA Wrestling set up large warmup areas to ensure social distancing and attendance was limited in the arena. Everyone had their temperatures checked before they entered the arena.

The Super 32 tournament was held in October in South Carolina with more than two dozen wrestlers from Connecticut that competed. More than 1,500 wrestlers signed up to compete along with 200 girls. Temperatures were checked before anyone entered the building and everyone was required to wear a mask, unless they were wrestling. Attendance was limited to coaches and immediate family members and the media was left outside.

Certain sports, by their nature, are more likely to promote exposure to the COVID-19 virus through respiratory droplets, the DPH release said.

“While the spread of COVID-19 within and among athletic teams during practice and play presents a risk to participants and their families, there are additional potential down-stream effects of these activities as well,” said Acting DPH commissioner Deidre Gifford in a statement on Monday.

State officials are concerned with athletes getting ill and threatening the ability of school districts to offer in-person teaching.

“Our state has been pretty good about getting out in front of the (COVID-19 virus),” Dion said. “Our state is better shape than some others. This isn’t a time to allow (the virus) to come back strong.”

If wrestling isn’t held during the traditional winter season, there is the possibility that some competition could be held during an alternative season during a one-month window from March 19 through April 17 if the rate of infection decreases in the state. Football is hoping to play some games during this period.

Latest guidance from the Connecticut Department of Health

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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