Will wrestling be feasible? Most coaches pessimistic, but Matt Smith offers ray of hope

RYAN HUTTON/ Staff photoWith new restrictions and spaced out sessions, Matt Smith has been able to keep Smitty’s Wrestling Barn operating and helping aspiring wrestlers.

It’s only July, with the start of practice still more than four months away. But, as a big fan of wrestling, I’m plenty worried.

And I’m not the only one. Most area wrestling coaches are pessimistic that there will be a full season this coming winter, and even a delayed and/or limited season looks dubious.

When Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker released his Phase 3 guidelines for youth and amateur sports several weeks ago, it listed 11 high-risk sports that, at least for the time being, does not allow for any competition that involves close, sustained contact between participants.

Limiting contact is difficult enough in the high profile sports of football and basketball, but it’s virtually impossible in wrestling, as the majority of coaches are well aware.

“With so much contact, so much heavy breathing and sweat, it doesn’t look good,” said Andover coach Mike Bolduc. “I’d say it’s more unlikely than likely that there will be a season.”

Said Haverhill coach Tim Lawlor: “If I had to put a percentage on it, I’d say there is a 25% chance we have a season. It’s going to be hard.

“From what I understand, because it’s Category 4, we can’t do it until there is a vaccine. Other states are delaying the season hoping things improve or there is a vaccine.

“I know in California, they’re starting (wrestling) practice Feb. 22 and having a tournament in June. But it looks like the MIAA isn’t too excited about moving the season.”

Methuen coach Bill James is also not optimistic about the season, saying that he’s just “hoping they come up with a vaccine by the winter.”

If there’s any hope, James says that “I think that football will tell us a lot about what will happen with wrestling, so I hope football finds a way to play.”

The situation may be less dire in New Hampshire but, says Pinkerton coach Dave Rhoads, there would need to be plenty of precautions and limitations if there is a season.

“We would need significant screening and small groups at practice,” said Rhoads. “Tournaments are probably out of the question until states and New England, and kids would have to wear masks, sanitize periodically, shower post practice and bring fresh, clean workout clothes every day.

“And nobody knows if things like that would be enough. The best we can do is follow USA Wrestling guidelines.”

Wearing a mask while wrestling would make breathing difficult and, says Bolduc, “it wouldn’t be secure and would keep coming off.”

However, Smitty’s Barn owner and head coach Matt Smith believes that there may be a way to hook up a mask or face covering to the wrestling head gear to keep it secure and that competing with a mask would be doable.

“It’d be taxing on the body but I think you’d get used to it,” said Smith, the former Timberlane four-time New England champion. “You’d just need to find the best possible mask. I know I’d wrestle with a mask.”

Smith is the exception to the rule regarding the prospects of having a wrestling season, and with good reason. By following state guidelines in New Hampshire and spreading out kids into three sessions during the day rather than one, he’s been able to hold wrestling sessions at the Barn over the last few weeks.

“We’re giving it a try — we’re the only club open that I know of,” said Smith. “We’re doing a lot of social distancing and have restrictions, but we’re getting it done.

“I think the season will be pushed back but I’m confident it will happen. Things are going well here and I think, as far as having a season, they’ll figure it out.”

Whether that’s realistic remains to be seen. But, in these times, it’s nice to have a wave of optimism.

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