MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – In late May the PIAA Board of Directors passed the Wrestling Steering Committee’s proposal to reduce the number of weight classes from 14 to 12.
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The PIAA will next petition the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA) to consider the reduction for the 2020-21 season.
If the NFSHSA, which is not expected to vote on the proposal until April 2020, does not approve the change, the PIAA would like to implement a three-year pilot program on its own.
Under the proposal, the 12 weight classes would be: 110, 118, 125, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 190, 215, 285.
The current weight classes are as follows: 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, 285
An increasing number of dual meet forfeits are the impetus for the proposed changes.
Randy Cathcart, a member of the District 9 Committee who also serves on the PIAA’s Wrestling Steering Committee, voted for the proposal.
“Participation has dropped,” Cathcart said. “This has caused many teams to forfeit weight classes. Dropping the number of weight classes (including going from 18 to 15 at the junior high level) should eliminate many of these forfeits and allow teams to be more competitive.
“It would make matches more exciting for the fans because more matches should be wrestled. It could encourage coaches to have more dual meets against rival teams instead of going to tournaments. In the past, coaches that were forced to forfeit many weight classes elected to go to more tournaments instead of having dual meets.”
It should be noted that under the PIAA’s proposal varsity teams would be permitted to enter a second wrestler in each weight class at tournaments where nine or more teams participate.
The PIAA’s proposal to reduce weight classes has been viewed favorably by some District 9 coaches, primarily for the reasons cited by Cathcart, with many suggesting tweaks.
“I am in favor of what the PIAA is trying to do with the proposed weight class changes,” Bradford head coach Jamey Miller said.” The 106 class is extremely hard for schools to fill. The purpose of the changes is to eliminate all the forfeits we are seeing not just in Pennsylvania but across the nation. These forfeits are a huge problem for smaller schools.
Dominic Surra, head coach at St. Marys, said he is in favor of the proposed weight changes if it is done correctly.
“I think that participation is important but also the product we put on the mat is too,” Surra said. “Fans come to see dual meets and good dual meets not forfeits. I believe dual meets are the cornerstone of our sport. They provide excitement within the program which helps build a program as well as maintaining a program.”
Port Allegany head coach Bradley Greenman said he would be in favor of a reduction of weight classes but would rather see 13 weight classes as opposed to the 12 proposed.
“This would solve a lot of ties going to criteria in matches,” Greenman said. “The reason I’m for the reduction is we see it a lot in our area where we’ll travel for a dual meet 45 minutes or more and wrestle the dual in less time than that due to forfeits.”
Clarion head coach Brian Luton believes 12 weight classes are a reasonable amount of weights.
“The weight classes may need tweaked a little bit but for a long-time high school wrestling has 12 weight classes,” Luton said. “We always have to be doing a better job at getting kids involved in the sport but with declining participation in our sport I think the move makes sense.”
Luke Bundy, outgoing head coach at DuBois and Eric Eddy, head coach at Punxsutawney, both have mixed feelings about the proposed change.
“I am kind of torn with the reduction of weights,” Bundy said. “I think there is a benefit of trying to eliminate forfeits and make duals more competitive. On the other hand, I see the argument that you are eliminating an opportunity for two athletes who traditionally fill a line-up year-in and year-out. It is a tough decision. Ideally, I think more needs to be done with this idea of reducing weights.”
Eddy said he doesn’t agree nor disagree with the proposal.
“I understand the thinking behind it especially in our area and other more rural settings,” Eddy said. “It would definitely benefit a program like ours that has traditionally struggled to fill a line-up. So on one hand, I could say that is what is best for the sport, but I also see it limiting opportunity. Fewer weight classes clearly means fewer guys on the mat. For our program, it could mean filling the line-up, but for another program, it could lead to attrition. Kids will quit because the option to move away from a teammate to secure a spot in the line-up will be less.”
Mike Voltano, head coach at Johnsonburg, also sees the PIAA’s proposal as a potential double-edged sword, helping a program one year but possible hurting it the next.
“I think it is time for the PIAA to step in and make a few changes with the weight classes,” Voltano said. “A few years ago we were all about dropping the weight classes from 14 to 12 or so. Now we (Johnsonburg) are expecting to have 17 or so kids on the team this year, so that would mean a few more kids would be without a spot. So it all depends on how many kids you have on your team each year,” said Voltano.
One head coach against the proposal is Dave Klepfer at Brookville mainly because it might take away athletic opportunity for some students.
“I certainly want to grow the sport but in my opinion, this is not the way to do it,” Klepfer said. “I’m not against a weight change but to take away two weights, and more importantly, take away the little guys’ opportunity is just not growing the sport in my mind. We need to do better in not only recruiting but also keeping kids involved in the sport.”
The last significant weight class change for high school wrestling came during the 2011-12 season when the NFSHSA implemented an upward shift from the classes than in existence to the current configuration. By revising 10 of the 14 weights the goal was to create classes that had approximately 7% of wrestlers in each.