BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — January’s announcement by New York State that high school wrestling could return in May has proven to be a short lived celebration for Eden wrestling coach Tom Page.
"You get excited and then they finished that statement with "except Erie County," Page said.
Out of the five counties where Section VI schools play, the Erie County Department of Health is the only one that has recommended against the sport returning.
"It's a let down and it is hard to understand," Page said, "because four of five counties said yes."
In January, the state said wrestling, a high-risk sport, could return if approved by local health officials. Erie County wasn’t on board then and still isn’t on board now.
In a statement the DOH said, "ECDOH made the recommendation in January that youth wrestling programs postpone or cancel their seasons due to levels of community COVID-19 transmission and the fact that wrestlers spar in very close proximity without the ability to wear a face mask. COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory secretions and close contact. Those factors have not changed. Our school team is seeing more cases transmitted through high-risk sports participation. When Section 6 indicated to ECDOH that they would be moving ahead with a spring wrestling season, we provided our recommendation in response, citing community transmission levels and student/school cases that are even higher than what the county was experiencing in January and February. NYSPHSAA Section 6 is aware that it does not need local health department permission to move ahead with its spring wrestling season."
Section VI does not need the county's permission, but is left in a difficult spot without it as all other high-risk sports that are playing have been given the county's blessing.
"Other sports have been able to work through this at the youth, collegiate, and professional level," Williamsville North/East wrestling coach Mickey Moran said, "So we are really being singled out."
According to Coach Page, Section VI's plan for safety includes:
- wrestlers only practicing with three or four students for the entire season
- ability to contract trace through minimal interaction outside of matches
- Heavy cleaning of equipment.
A decision is needed quickly on the wrestling season, as the sport is supposed to begin practices on May 3rd.