New weight classes to cause intrigue
It is a decision that has not won the popular vote, but for the first time since the 1996-97 season, the weights in New York wresting have undergone an overhaul.
In April, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Wrestling Rules Committee approved an upward shift in a majority of weight classes. Ten of the 14 federation weights were increased, and the lightest weight class will move from 103 to 106 pounds. New York, the only state to previously have a 96-pound weight class, will increase the lightest of its 15 weights to 99 pounds.
According to Dale Pleimann, chair of the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee, they analyzed the weights of 195,000 wrestlers over a nearly four-year period, using data from the National Wrestling Coaches Association's (NWCA) Optimal Performance Calculator.
"The committee tried to take all of the input they received from the past three, four years," Pleimann said. "They received multiple proposals, and they tried to combine that with the information received from the National Wrestling Coaches Association."
Only four weights -- 145, 152, 160 and 285 -- remain unchanged. There are five weight classes at 170 pounds or heavier, one more than previously, and four weight classes from 125-145 (down from five).
The new weights will impact some wrestlers more than others. Long Beach's Mark Raghunandan, the reigning state runner-up at 103 pounds, will compete at 113. With the old weight system, he would have been a 112-pounder. East Meadow's Nolan Travis, a natural 182-pounder, has been wrestling at 195 at dual meets because of the Jets' lack of depth at the upper weights.
"What you're doing is putting a burden on teams by adding weights up top," East Islip wrestling coach Guy Leggio said. "They made a system that was top-heavy instead of helping out the kids in the lower weights."
That is the consensus among Long Island coaches, many of whom are scrambling for wrestlers at the upper weights. St. Anthony's, the two-time defending CHSAA state champion, does not have a 285-pounder on its roster.
Leggio has three wrestlers apiece at 285 and 220, which he credits to his working relationship with the school's football program. Many wrestling programs are not as fortunate.
Conversely, few teams struggle to fill weights in the 120s, 130s and 140s.
"The part I don't like is that we lost a weight in the 130s, where you have the most kids," said Connetquot coach Bill Santoro, now in his 34th season. "I don't have a problem with opening the door for anybody, but don't close the door to the lower weight guys."
For Santoro, the new weights have forced him into a bind. He says there are three varsity-caliber guys on his roster that can wrestle at either 132 or 138 pounds. In past seasons, he could have spread them across 130, 135 and 140 pounds.
Pleimann says the NFHS did their due diligence in ensuring that the changes would be beneficial to the student-athlete.
"We looked at what weights kids were weighing in at the beginning of the season, their first weigh-in when they were going through the certification process," Pleimann said, before adding, "rather than the minimum weight they could possibly compete at."
On talent-rich Long Island, most of the elite larger schools have been able to fill the 15 weights, even with the slide up the scale. But the smaller schools that had difficulty filling out a roster are concerned with the potential consequences.
That even extends to a program like Bayport-Blue Point, a Division II (small school) team that sported individual champions at every weight from 112-140 pounds at the 2011 Suffolk County championship.
"Personally, I think it will be difficult for the smaller schools, and even some of the bigger schools, to fill those larger weights," BBP coach Rich Reilly said. "This year, I'm fortunate, but who's to say what the next few years will bring."
"It'll be hit or miss."
Added Brentwood coach Ralph Napolitano: "The coaches that I've spoken to, they all said that it hurt them this year. I haven't talked to a coach yet that has said, 'I love these weight classes.'"
According to the data given to the NFHS from the NWCA, the least-participated weight divisions, based on percentages, were 285 (2.67) and 215 (4.14). The four most popular weights were 125 (9.46), 119 (8.83), 130 (8.69) and 135 (8.65).
Many coaches fear that less depth will force more JV-caliber heavyweights into varsity slots.
"You want to build your program, but sometimes we have to throw the freshmen in against bigger guys," Napolitano said. "If we keep wrestling these young kids who aren't ready for varsity, you'll have more kids getting discouraged.
"I worry more about discouraging kids. We want to keep kids in the sport because it's a great sport."
NYSPHSAA wrestling coordinator Martin Sherman says he is aware of the coaches' concerns and that the weight classes are among the issues that may be discussed at the next committee meeting on Jan. 19.
"We had no concern when the new weights came out, but there is always the possibility in the future that we can waive the Federation weights," Sherman said.
The abolition of the Federation weights would have to be approved by the section chairpersons, a championship advisory committee and then an executive committee. First, Sherman said he must "compile thoughts from around the state."
For now, weighty controversy reigns supreme.