WNY Athletics

Section VI Executive Committee Postpones High School Wrestling Season

In an email obtained by WNY Athletics staff on Thursday, January 28th, Section VI Executive Director Mark DiFilippo communicated to athletic directors that the Executive Committee met and has decided to postpone the high school and modified wrestling season to May 10th – June 30th, 2021. Approval from Albany for ‘high risk sports’ to return to action was granted on Friday, January 22nd.

The postponement comes after a joint statement released by “the leaders of the five county health departments (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Niagara) in WNY” on Wednesday, January 27th that was intended to address “Revisions to the guidance relaxed certain restrictions on higher-risk sports, including wrestling.” Although there has been no organized wrestling in New York State in the past year (except collegiate wrestling), the statement points out that “Wrestling involves participants sparring in very close physical proximity for extended periods of time, which significantly increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

The statement also references a January 26th CDC report of a “large COVID outbreak associated with a wrestling tournament in December 2020” at an undisclosed location (not in NYS) from which contact tracers recently determined through data collection from diagnostic testing across three counties that twenty individuals with Covid infections and one fatality were traced back to having been at this wrestling event. While there is no mention of whether or not the report believes the tournament was the actual location from which multiple people became infected, it arbitrarily blames “exposures during this wrestling tournament” as the cause for concern, if not panic. Finally, the joint county statement determined “The circumstances in the MMWR brief could easily be replicated at a WNY wrestling tournament” and that they would “strongly recommended” that WNY schools postpone or cancel altogether wrestling for this year.

It is unknown, as of now, what the competition plan for a shortened season from February 1st to March 22nd would have looked like considering NYSPHSAA will still enforce certifications and a minimum practice requirement in order to compete. However, there may not have been time to organize tournaments the size of the one in which the CDC report alludes to; there is speculation that there were over 1,400 spectators, officials, and athletes there. Participating WNY schools may have simply stuck to a dual meet only plan in which prevention guidelines could have been more easily followed and enforced. As part of their recommendation, the WNY county statement recommends postponing to a later date “when community transmission of COVID-19 is significantly lower,” even now as recent transmission rates have shown dramatic decreases coinciding with the state’s recent approval for a full return to elective surgeries in area hospitals.

While WNY schools will not participate in wrestling until at least May (and even if they do, will be wrestling until after classes are over and maybe even until after graduation) our neighbors in the Rochester/Genesee Region (Section V) and in other places like Suffolk County (Section XI) which has a greater population and population density than all of WNY, will be back on the mat as of next Monday, February 1st.

In the last nine months alone, Trackwrestling.com tallies 1,726 wrestling tournaments across the country with many hundreds, if not thousands more being conducted without the Trackwrestling platform. To date, this is the biggest nationally-known ‘wrestling event’ to be blamed as what some might call a ‘super spreader’ event, representing 0.058% of all tournaments logged in Trackwrestling’s database.

It took the CDC nearly two whole months to gather, research, and present this data, and one whole day for WNY health leaders to recommend the postponement or cancellation of the sport in our region.

It is unknown if local wrestling leadership, coaches, athletes, or advocates have been advised or consulted on whether or not to uphold, delay, or cancel the season.

The latest delay is now one of a handful of postponements for the sport going back to October 2020 before the normal winter practice start date.

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