Cutting weight in wrestling is common practice. The PIAA is preparing to take that to another level by cutting out an entire weight class.
Last Wednesday, the PIAA Wrestling Steering Committee approved a recommendation to reduce the number of weight classes in high school wrestling from 14 to 13. The move came a day after the National Federation of State High School Associations declined to alter its weight class system. The PIAA had planned to petition the NFHS if it failed to reduce the number of weight classes for the 2020-21 season, seeking to run a three-year pilot program using only 12 weights.
The steering committee’s motion must be approved by the PIAA Board of Directors, which meets on May 20, to go into effect for the upcoming season.
The PIAA adopted a 14-class system in 2002 and has used the current weight classes since 2011. Under the new proposal the first nine weights would remain unchanged at 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152 and 160. From there 172, 189 and 215 would be inserted in place of 170, 182, 195 and 220. The final weight would remain 285.
The move is sure to draw mixed reactions from coaches across the commonwealth, but a number of area coaches appear united in their displeasure.
Gettysburg’s Chris Haines has been outspoken in his opposition to any reduction and remains so, even after the 12-weight plan was shelved. A decade ago, Haines inherited a Warrior program that had only nine wrestlers. Through an enormous amount of work, Gettysburg has grown into a program with more than 35 athletes on its roster, including 23 who saw varsity action last season as Gettysburg captured the District 3 Class 3A team title.
Haines now fears that the PIAA is moving to eliminate opportunities for athletes.
“I don’t think it’s a compromise, I think it’s just one step closer to going to 12,” he said. “I don’t agree with the elimination of weight classes in any way, shape or form. Every other sport you add, add, add, but not in wrestling.”
Biglerville head coach Ken Haines remains perplexed as to why Pennsylvania appears to be moving in a direction opposite that of the national sanctioning body.
“I don’t quite understand it because nationally they’re making rules more lenient with weigh-ins, hair and equipment to increase number of participants, but in-state we lessen the number of opportunities for participants. High school sports are supposed to be about opportunities. It makes no sense to me.”
A perceived win for coaches was that 106 remained the lowest weight. Under the PIAA’s original proposal, the lightest class would have been bumped up to 110, with 118 serving as the following weight. Coaches argued against going away from 106 due to the number of lighter athletes that would be negatively affected.
The move to get away from 106 derived from the number of forfeits in that class, which totaled more than 2,200 statewide last year, the most of any weight and a hefty increase from previous seasons. Still, area coaches feared increasing the first weight would reduce opportunities for lighter athletes. Chris Haines cited freshman Reed Miller, who split time at 106 last year for the Warriors, going 17-11 and recording a dozen pins.
“There are smaller kids out there who aren’t given an even playing field in other sports like football or soccer,” he said. “Reed Miller got a ton of time for us. Take a kid that weighs 104 pounds, where else can they compete on the varsity level?”
Ken Haines can relate. Freshman Brody Gardner was Biglerville’s starter at 106 despite weighing less than 90 pounds. Gardner gained a year’s worth of varsity training and experience, which included competing in Class 2A Section 1 and District 3 tournaments.
“When he wrestled kids closer to his size you got to see his skill level come out,” said Ken. “He never complains, goes out and battles against guys much larger than he is. If you take (106) away, you eliminate one of the most dedicated kids on my team.”
Dave McCollum has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches from a depth perspective at Bermudian Springs, which fields one of the deepest Class 2A teams in District 3. The Eagles not only sport a full roster year in and year out but also have lineup maneuverability that most 2A programs can only imagine.
Even so, McCollum sees merit in dropping a weight class in order for smaller programs to better their chances of competing in dual meets, in addition to other potential benefits.
“Going to 13 weights gives us a better chance opportunity to fill the weight classes and eliminate forfeits,” he said. “A big plus I see is it will also eliminate a lot of confusion when there’s a tie (with an odd number of bouts). With seven wins compared to six, that’s cut and dry and a lot simpler. And from another perspective, eliminating a match will shorten the event. Some people feel like these matches take too long, although I don’t feel that way.”
All three coaches agreed that the weight gaps between 160 and 285 are troubling. Not only would an entire spot be removed, but there would be a 17-pound gap between 172 and 189, and a 26-pound hike from 189 to 215. They worry that lopsided matchups will materialize as teams attempt to fill those slots with undersized wrestlers.
“I’m not real thrilled about that gap, it’s ridiculous,” said McCollum. “I’d rather keep the 14 weights and adjust the others below it to eliminate that issue.”
Despite their opposition, the coaches are resigned to dealing with the pending changes, which are expected to be made official on May 20.
“Twelve (weights) would have been way worse, but the frustrating aspect is that in all other sports they’re adding opportunities and now they’re taking them away from wrestling,” said Chris Haines. “Throw on top of that they’re not willing to sanction girls’ wrestling, so what does that say about the PIAA right now?”