Coach's Corner: Even with virus, South's wrestling season is off to a great start
A few months back, the state of Illinois designated various high school sports as low-, moderate- or high-risk in relation to participation under COVID-19 restrictions.
Seemed reasonable. And I thought at the time that maybe one sport -- wrestling -- should have a category unto its own. You could label it "severe risk," "intense risk" or maybe better yet label it as: "Are You Crazy!"
Wrestling during the pandemic? With all the inherent close body contact? After all, getting up close and personal is part-and-parcel of what this sport requires. Without getting too graphic, you are literally face-to-face with opponents while perspiration is dripping on each other, with nose, mouth and eyes all susceptible, it would seem, at such close range.
Dr. Fauci might have The Big One just thinking about the problems with this sport.
But ... I was wrong. The sport of wrestling is alive and well in the fine state of Illinois.
"Our season is off and running," says an excited and enthusiastic Glenbrook South coach Pat Castillo. "Once the IHSA gave us the OK in February, we had our assigned contact days, some preseason workouts and now we are back in competition."
Interesting. But surely many of the kids dropped out this year, or were not allowed to participate by parents who refused to let their sons compete in wrestling?
"Not at all," says Castillo, " We may have had a few kids hesitate and wait till they got their vaccine shots, but for the most part everybody came back, and to be honest I have not had any parents come to me and question if the sport would be safe. We sent some safety guidelines out via our website, and I think our kids did a great job of relaying any concerns to their parents."
Color me as surprised, but it wouldn't be the first time, that's for sure.
OK, at least there has to be some drastic rule changes and uniform protections to allow wrestling to continue?
"Pretty much the same rules as before," says coach. "The biggest difference is there is a maximum three teams allowed in competition. No more big invitationals with multiple teams. But wrestlers competing do not have to wear masks, and there are no other uniform or performance restrictions. Of course, while on the bench or on sidelines, all kids will then wear masks" adds Castillo.
So? Basketball players had to wear masks this past winter when competing, but now not wrestlers? Color me surprised yet again.
But I shall put away the skepticism and welcome the oncoming season.
Castillo is very much looking forward to it, and he really praised his GBS wrestlers for staying in shape in the long off-season.
"They were in the weight room, working hard, and they stayed motivated despite not knowing if there would be a season or not," says coach. "And then once we got the go-ahead, they were in open gyms and ready to work. Tudor Ursu, our most experienced senior and one of our captains, was kind of my lead communication guy. He kept everybody informed and made sure messages to the wrestlers were received. He gets a lot of credit for keeping the team together," adds coach.
The Titan grapplers should be in good shape this year. The aforementioned Tudor Ursu along with Will Collins, Johnny Trinidad, Alex Sullivan and Ryan Brown are the most experienced of the bunch, but Coach Castillo looks for others to contribute as well.
The Titans started their season last week and will compete in a full conference schedule ending in mid-June. As of now, no state series will be conducted this year, but a separate organization -- The Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association -- is trying to see if they can run some kind of end of year tournament to take it's place.
Again, to clarify, maybe some reading this column might think I am dissing a bit on the sport of wrestling. Not at all. I have written on the sport before, and I am a big fan having often said there is no tougher three minutes in all of sports than the three-minute period in wrestling.
It is full body strength, effort and intensity without any breaks. The techniques and strategy in the sport are underrated, as is the ability to withstand pain and torture to the body during a match. Each wrestler is out there all by their lonesome, and when struggling or in a "down position" there is nobody to turn to except themselves and their inner competitive will to turn things around.
No question I have the utmost respect for these athletes.
Note: I never competed in the sport myself in high school. However, I remember proudly when this fairly skinny and only moderately gifted high school athlete went 9-0 and undefeated over the course of two semesters of physical education wrestling competition. So, there's that.
Most importantly, of course, is that we are glad for all those competing in the sport that they will have their chance to shine. When things were very much in doubt, they now are able to compete and experience the competition for which they have worked so long and trained so hard.
Still, it is hard not to fathom that of all the tough opponents these sage soldiers of the singlets may encounter this season, the toughest of all, and maybe the most difficult to defeat? Might be the virus itself.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.