Coaches adapt to weight class changes
Bob Ford/TIMES NEWS The scoreboard displays the start of a 195-pound wrestling bout at one of the area schools. The 195-pound class is just one of 10 new weight classes in high school wrestling this season.
Change comes whether we like it or not.
And for high school wrestlers across the nation, it came last spring when the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Wrestling Rules Committee approved a shift in weight classes.
For those who haven't noticed, 10 of the 14 weight classes have changed and the general trend was upward.
The new weights are now 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 170, 182, 195 and 220. Those that stayed the same are 145, 152, 160 and 285.
In the past, seven weight classes came before 145 while four followed 160. Now there are six before 145 and five after 160.
So how have area coaches adapted to the change?
Not surprisingly, they've taken it in stride.
"We're accustomed to it right now," said Lehighton mentor Dan Williams. "I think for the way our team was shaped this year, it helped us out. We had a senior on the bubble at 103, so 106 helped us.
"I don't think it's changed the matchups at all. I think the matchup style has been the same. In some of the weight changes you're really only talking a few pounds. You're not talking about huge changes. The biggest changes came up top."
According to the NFHS Rules Committee, the change came after years of studies. Results from the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Optimal Performance Calculator were used (with nearly 200,000 wrestlers analyzed) and the goal of the organization was to have seven percent of the wrestlers represented in each class.
"It really doesn't matter to me," said Panther Valley's Tim Robb. "It's just part of wrestling. "One advantage is you can get more football players out. There's more places to put them. Kids don't want to wrestle if they don't have a spot.
"A disadvantage is they eliminitated a weight down in the middle. That area is popular in our area, meaning our state. Nationally there's more big kids. But in our area, because wrestling is so big at the elementary level, the little kids learn to wrestle and stay with it. When we go out of the area, it seems like it's an advantage for them because they have more big kids."
Palmerton is one area school that boasts success in the heavier weights. The Bombers have three wrestlers in the 170-pound and up classes with winning records.
But even their head coach knows it will be difficult to continue that year after year.
"I'm kind of indifferent about the change," said Palmerton's Dave Lavine. "It did help us get the lowest weight (106) because we've never been able to get someone down there. He probably wouldn't be able to make 103 if they still had it.
"It's helpful there, but it's also tough because we're a small school and it's hard to get big guys. They expanded the upper weight classes and that makes it challenging. The average high school kid doesn't walk around in the 182-plus range and that's where there's another weight class now."
While the weight change doesn't seem to have a huge bearing on the area, some of the coaches revealed what change they would have made instead.
"I look at the competition, even the teams from around the state, and if they were going to make a change at all I wish what they would've done is get rid of a couple weight classes," said Williams. "At the collegiate level they've got 10 weight classes. If we could get a little bit closer to that I thought that would've been the right move.
"Build competition within your room. With all the weight classes, the kids know they have a spot. If you have two or three kids waiting behind you that want your spot, that's going to increase your motivation in the practice room and get you to work harder and harder and harder."
"Wrestling is a sport that is struggling in popularity and numbers and you see a lot of schools shutting it down," said Lavine. "I think to make it an exciting match, and not have it about who's going to forfeit where, you've got to have less weight classes. That would make it more competitive."
Not everyone, though, is sold on cutting weight classes.
In fact, the Panthers' Robb is completely against such an idea.
"I think the more weight classes there are, the more chance there is for kids to wrestle," said Robb. "Every time they talk about eliminating weight classes, my thought is if kids don't have a spot they won't come out. That's just the way it is. I'm against eliminating any. I want to keep as many as we can to keep as many kids involved.
"In my experience if they don't wrestle varisty, they quit. As long as they didn't eliminate spots, I didn't care about the change in weight classes. It is what it is."
SUPPORTING THE TROOPS ... Panther Valley's wrestling team will be holding a special match on Wednesday against Halifax.
The Panthers will be raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that provides programs and services to severely injured service members during the time between active duty and transition to civilian life.
The idea came when PV graduate Tim Smell, a current member of the Army, and PV wrestling coach Tim Robb got together to talk. The wrestlers will shake hands with the troops and say thanks, everyone will sing the national anthem and the PV ROTC will be involved.
And, if 500 people are in attendance Robb has agreed to wear a singlet with bunny slippers.
"We want to raise money for this project," said Robb. "It should be a cool event and we want to get as many people involved in it as we can. Hopefully it will be a success."
BULLDOG MILESTONE ... Northern Lehigh's wrestling program reached an impressive milestone at this past weekend's Zephyr Duals.
The Bulldogs went 3-1 and finished ninth out of 16 teams at the Whitehall event. Those wins allowed Nolehi to reach 500 all-time dual meet victories.