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New wrestling season brings new challenges

While the IHSA stood firm that its winter basketball season will remain as scheduled, it is moving its wrestling season to the end of the school year.

The IHSA announced last week that the upcoming wrestling season, which was scheduled to start this month, would be moved to the new summer season from April 6 to June 26, 2021 due to safety concerns for COVID-19 as a high-risk sport.

“It is definitely going to be different not having wrestling this winter, but I am excited the IHSA made the decision to allow us the opportunity to compete,” Princeton coach Steve Amy said. “Having wrestling in the spring and into the summer months will present some different challenges, but at the same time we still get to wrestle so we will take those challenges as they come.”

Amy understands the concern about wrestling, because it “is a close contact sport. It doesn’t get much closer.”

But he doesn’t understand why it’s OK to have his 9-year-old son, Hawk, and other Princeton kids wrestle twice a week at a club in Bettendorf Iowa, but it’s not OK to wrestle in Illinois.

“We’ve been going there since May. I guess I’ll continue to do that. Get more family time in,” Amy said.

St. Bede coach Sam Allen is not a big fan of the move at all, feeling that there are ways that the sport could have remained where it was instead of putting the various sports in opposition. He feels that wrestling is as much a contact sport as basketball, so if basketball players are in action in the winter, so should the mat men.

“I think there are ways that we could have made this work under certain guidelines,” Allen said. “At the pro level, they’re doing it. At the college level, they’re doing it. They’ve proved it can be done, so it doesn’t seem necessary from my point of view because there are ways to do them safely … In addition, there’s the issue of conflicts with other sports, plus I don’t like the fact that’s its pushing it all the way back to the last possible moment. What if that season gets cancelled, too? Then no one has a season at all.

“I am surprised that there isn’t as much pushback over wrestling as there is for basketball. I think wresting people are just happy to have hope for a season. I’m grateful, too, but there just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of data to back it up.”

Jerry Kriewald, who will be stepping down as PC/Hall coach after starting the co-op 10 years ago, was very much in favor of the move for the safety of every one involved during the pandemic.

“For everyone’s well-being, delaying all high-risk sports for a season isn’t so bad to avoid a potential situation,” he said. “We were concerned in April with 2,000 daily infections and now we have 6,000. It seems like the logical choice with fewer interruptions for wrestlers to train and compete is to start in the spring.”

“Every sport works hard and goals are affected. Transitioning to a summer sport hopefully give us enough time to come up with a vaccine and allows our wrestlers to have not just 20 duals, but experience the life-changing State series. Some students in their teens identify their character with IHSA sports and allow to be defined by them.”

Kriewald said the switch will prevent wrestlers from being set up for a big disappointment in the event they were forced to quarantine.

“We are in times that can change day to day. Wrestling is a sport that changes your daily diet and habits. COVID can alter the weekly season in 12 hours,” he said. “Could you imagine losing 15 or 20 pounds of body fat and train for the ultimate match, then realize your goals are shattered two days before regionals, because an acquaintance you are around is affected or exposed and puts you in quarantine?

Area coaches do have concerns that athletes will now be forced to choose between sports with football now scheduled for Feb. 15-May 1, and baseball, track and boys tennis all May 3-June 26.

“During that spring/summer season is when quite a few of my wrestlers would be out for baseball, soccer, or track so either we will have to share athletes or they will have to choose,” Amy said.

Matt Rebholz, who will take over the reins of the La Salle-Peru wrestling program from Ed Wrobleski whenever the season starts, agrees that mat programs at schools of that size and smaller could be hurt by the move.

“My first impression is that while I’m a little disappointed it’s being moved, I’m still happy there’s going to be a chance for a season,” he said, “but there will obviously be more conflicts with other sports and because we are a small, rural school, we will be competing with them within our school for athletes. Right now, our hope is that we will have a team when the time comes, that’s our goal, and we’ll go from there.

“I’m very excited as this season is my first as the head coach, but you never want to see athletes not have a season and not have results for all the hard work they’ve put in.”

Kriewald himself had to make a choice between wrestling and his job as a franchise owner for Stanley Steemer, saying the April-May schedule would really conflict with his work responsibilities.

Amy said wrestling has prepared his kids to handle obstacles like this.

“The great thing about the sport of wrestling, it teaches you how to adapt and overcome when life throws you curve balls and anything else,” he said.

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