For the better part of a week, there has been some relief from the recent controversy that has preceded the high school wrestling state tournaments across Arizona, which cropped up after many of the coaches in Division I were faced with perceived inequality in sectional competition.
By dividing the wrestling sectionals along geographic lines, the state’s power programs – those that have ruled the roost for many years and produced 44 state team titles combined – have been gathered together in two of the four sections.
Unfortunately, the distraction that took the focus off the controversy was a widespread outbreak of skin infections that cancelled the state’s 16 sectional tournaments and put an indefinite hold on wrestling activity in all four divisions across the state.
The inequality issue hasn’t been resolved, and won’t be this season, but the confusion and uncertainty about the state tournaments has finally been lifted. According to an email released yesterday by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, Division III and IV sectionals have been cancelled, but the state tournaments will be held this weekend, while Division I and II will hold sectionals this weekend. More information about scheduling, locations, etc. is supposed to be released today and tomorrow through the AIA.
The decision by the state’s high school athletics governing body brings to a close a frustrating period during which coaches wrestled (no pun intended) with the issues that come with not knowing when, or if, the tournaments would be allowed to continue. Some coaches were reportedly even considering arrangements to hold a state tournament under the guidance of the AZ USA Wrestling organization, should the AIA decide to cancel state tournaments altogether.
Coaches have been dealing with keeping their wrestlers focused from day-to-day, not knowing what the AIA was going to decide. Wrestlers had to continue daily conditioning workouts and be vigilant about maintaining their weight, but didn’t know for how long.
And during all of this, each wrestler was encouraged to make daily examinations to be able to catch any outbreaks of skin infections that may have been incubating since previous contact with a competitor carrying the bacteria. It has only made this year’s preparation for state competition all the more difficult.
At first, there was no determination of the source or type of skin infection, but it was believed that as many as 20 wrestlers from seven different schools had been infected. One primary source was believed to be a 24-team tournament in Peoria. After that tournament, schools that had competed had other dual meets scheduled, which means the infestation could have spread to a much wider group.
Initially, the type of infection was undetermined, but an ABC15-TV report several days ago narrowed the cause to impetigo and herpes. Impetigo, which is highly contagious and causes red sores that can break open, is the most common problem associated with wrestling and can be cleared up within three or four days if diagnosed and properly treated. The herpes virus generally has an incubation period of about a week.
Needless to say, precautions are being set in place this weekend at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott, where most or all of the state tournaments will take place. They include lots of disinfection measures before and after every match.
But wrestlers who will be competing can also take their own precautionary measures. Each should perform a daily inspection to look for signs of outbreak and then notify his coach immediately to determine if a health professional should be consulted. He should make sure that his practice clothing and headgear is cleaned daily and should shower with an antibiotic soap before leaving the gym for the day.
Wrestlers are individually checked over before competition and those with outward signs of infection will not be allowed to participate. Some coaches felt that should have been enough to handle this infection issue as well, without having to postpone competition at a time when wrestlers are preparing for their biggest matches of the year.
In a statement released yesterday by the AIA, the organization’s executive director, Harold Slemmer, addressed the confusion and frustration over the past week: “We recognize that the postponement of the wrestling tournaments was an inconvenience, but when compared to protecting the health and well-being of our students, it was a choice that had to be made.”
OK, the decision has been made. Schools can get back to preparing their teams, knowing that they will, indeed, be able to compete again this season.
And those unlucky Division I coaches who find themselves in the stacked sections I and IV can get back to complaining about the inequality.