By Kyle Daubs
As far as Mahomet wrestling coach Rob Ledin is concerned, this was the best-case scenario.
Last week, the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors met for a special board meeting and made an official decision on winter sports. For wrestling, the board voted to move the sport to the summer season, which stretches from April 19 to June 26, 2021.
Ledin, an executive board member for the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association, said he agrees with the decision, calling it “our best option for the health and safety of our wrestlers.”
“The proposal was given to the IHSA in August in the hopes of helping them make an “early” decision to move the season,” Ledin said. “Instead they tabled the proposal and that lengthened the anxiety of our wrestlers, coaches and officials. Postponing the season to April will give our medical professionals time to finish the vaccine trials and also improve treatment techniques.”
Other coaches around the conference, such as Mount Zion’s David Klemm, agreed that this was the best decision.
“Given the situation with the COVID virus, I believe the move to the IHSA summer season is a good decision,” Klemm said. “Hopefully, by that time, restrictions will loosen we will actually have a season. I am hopeful we will wrestle. It’s the best opportunity we have this year.”
Many teams around the Apollo have quality wrestlers. Mount Zion has two returning All-Apollo wrestlers, as well as six returning sectional qualifiers. As for Mahomet-Seymour, Daniel Renshaw placed fifth in the state, while Gage Granadino qualified for state. Several conference teams qualified for the state duals after winning their regional tournaments while Mattoon and Mahomet advanced to the the state quarterfinals.
So not having a season is a sad thought.
“I have a younger team, but I do have a state-ranked wrestler who is going into his senior year and could do some special things,” said Taylorville coach Jake Smothers. “My hopes are that he is still able to wrestle this season and get an opportunity to achieve the things he has been working so hard for merely his entire life.
Smothers believes the season should have happened as scheduled. The IHSA decided to go against the governor’s warning allowing basketball practices to start Nov. 16, but the status of games remains unclear.
“Unfortunately, I have been pessimistic about the IHSA and IDPH letting us wrestle at all, but I have hopes that the virus gets under control and we can have a normal season even if it is in the summer,” said Smothers. “I can say that it seems silly that they are going ahead with the basketball season but they are pushing us all the way back to the summer. When kids play basketball at a high level you come into contact many times with other players, so what is the difference? I don’t have the answers and I wish we were given more reasons to why they single us out but not other winter sports.”
Smothers said he was extremely upset when he learned the season had been moved from winter to summer.
“I would like to say I’m gutted for my wrestlers that were looking forward to getting back in the room and getting back into a routine they are familiar with,” said Smothers. “I can’t say I agree or disagree because I obviously understand the circumstances and just hope we are able to get a season in for the kids sake.”
Mattoon is in a similar predicament. Last year, the Green Wave made school history by qualifying for state duals for the first time. The Green Wave have a number of wrestlers returning and could make another run at qualifying.
Even with that in play, coach Brett Porter believes that pushing the season back was the right call.
“The IWCOA (Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association) has presented a great alternative to the IHSA which includes a later start date and a postseason,” said Porter. “At this time, I have not heard any wrestler or parent involved in Mattoon Wrestling worried about health and safety risks from Covid. I believe Mattoon High School wrestlers will be ready to compete, if given the opportunity. While reluctant, I think most would be willing to comply with safety measures such as wearing a mask during competition and practice, showers immediately after each match.”
Pushing the wrestling season back to the summer could also force athletes to choose among track, baseball, softball, track and tennis.
The season also stretches into the summer, which, Smothers says, could affect multiple teams.
“Pushing the season back to the summer raises a lot of questions,” said Smothers. “Will my seniors have to leave for college or the military before the season is finished? Will kids want to spend half of their summer vacation going to practice and competing? Will there be more injuries with pushing the season back since these kids have competed full time during the winter their entire lives? The list goes on, but I hope that the IHSA, IDPH, and our school board work together to form a plan to get us back on the mat and get these kids back to some normalcy.”
The season is months away. All anyone can do is hope that the COVID cases go down, and the wrestling season will not be taken away.
“I believe we will wrestle come April,” said Ledin. “However, I remain hopeful that we will be given a chance to have some sort of state series for all wrestlers.”