High School wrestling will look a little different next season as the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Central committee approved a two-year pilot program to use 13 weight classes, beginning with the 2020-21 season by a 28-13 vote.
There were 15 weight classes.
“I’m not crazy about taking the opportunities away from kids,” Newburgh Free Academy coach Chris Leggett said.
According to state officials the rationale for the change was ongoing discussion at the section, state and national level regarding the increased number of forfeits during dual meets. The National Federation of State High School Association was asked to address the issue, but the NFHS’ proposal was sent back to the rules committee.
“It’s reduced participation,” said Jeff Cuilty, Section 9 wrestling coordinator and former Newburgh and Wallkill coach. “Some teams had some forfeits and that is what was driving this, but when you look at the actual numbers, there are still going to be forfeits. If you only have seven kids, certified, you are still going to have six forfeits.”
Cuilty said 174 of the state’s 544 teams didn’t have any forfeits, while 343 – or 63 percent – had two or less.
Along with Section 9, Sections 1 and 4, Cuilty was surprised Section 9’s position was in the minority.
The NYSPHSAA’s proposal is in line with a proposal in Pennsylvania to adjust its weight classes, except for the bottom three weight classes.
According to Cuilty, wrestling grew statewide by 932 wrestlers last year and in a statement read to the committee, said it appears that teams with constant coaching turnover tend to have the most forfeit problems, or if schools’ rosters are too small, they should merge the programs, shadow with another program, or attend multi-meets as opposed to dual meets.
The area’s smallest school with wrestling, Highland, has never had a hard time filling the 15 weight classes.
“We could always fill it,” Highland coach John McFarland said. “A lot of schools did the same thing. We got more kids in the lineup and more opportunities and that’s what I’m sad to see go the most.”
A lot of focus has been the loss of the 99-pound weight class, as the weight classes will start at 102 pounds. During 2019-20, 719 athletes certified for the 99-pound weight class and 542 of them were between 7th and 9th grade.
However, with the absence of the lightest weight class, a young wrestler won’t have a varsity spot and that could determine whether he continues with the sport.
“I think any time you take an opportunity away from a kid, you can always discourage him from a sport” McFarland said. “I would have rather seen them keep the 15. The more opportunities, the better.”
Leggett said he has a strong middle school wrestler coming up that may have qualified for the 99-weight class next year.
“It will take him out of another season of wrestling varsity unless he hits a quick growth spurt,” Leggett said. “It hurts us that we’ll have one of our better wrestlers not in our lineup.”