FOXBORO — In the closest of contact sports, area high-school wrestlers are coming to grips with CDC guidelines and COVID-19 protocol to get onto the mat for practices and matches — all hoping to avoid a takedown.
“It’s been a tough road,” Foxboro High wrestling coach Bill Ivatts said of trying to get enough of a quorum of wrestlers just for practice, never mind meets, with several of the weekend quadrangular and invitational meets becoming victims of contact tracing and protocol.
“We’re managing and doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Ivatts said.
Two titans in the Hockomock League and in MIAA sectional and state competition through the years — Foxboro High and North Attleboro — were scheduled to compete Wednesday at the Rocketeers’ Ken Pickering Gymnasium, but that meet was postponed as well.
“But who we’re going to put out there, I don’t know,” Ivatts said of the likelihood of a reduced roster due to health issues. “You just kind of roll with it and do the best that you can.”
North Attleboro wrestling coach Geoff Burgess shut down the Rocketeer program for five full days, hoping to calm the storm and surge of COVID cases. North had a dual meet on Dec. 28 and then ceased practices and competition.
“I’ve heard that cases are up in all schools and in all sports,” Burgess said after practice Monday, dealing with 15 Rocketeer matmen out for various reasons.
“Some COVID-related, some not,” Burgess said.
Customarily, wrestling programs schedule a dual meet for mid-week and participate in a multi-school event on weekends, such as the Marshfield and Lowell Invitationals, or at other regional sites.
“We’re trying to be extra-careful,” Burgess said, even to the extent of limiting full-squad training and workout sessions. “We’re trying to follow the protocols as best we can. So if a kid has any symptoms at all, whether or not he’s tested positive or not, we’re asking him to say home.
“What’s been happening is that kids stay at home from practice, say on a Thursday. On Friday, he says he tested positive, so we go back with the contacts. The rules are pretty clear.
“What’s good about it is that most of the kids have been vaccinated. We’re basing it all on symptoms and kids have been in and out. Some kids have tested negative and come back when they don’t have symptoms.
“Some kids don’t have symptoms, but tested positive. It’s a horror show.”
It’s not only been a day-to-day process of monitoring student-athletes, but almost an hour-to-hour situation.
“The good news is that we’re keeping track of clusters,” Ivatts said of the daily monitoring the situation by Foxboro High administration and Athletic Director Joe Cusack. “If we have more than a certain amount of wrestlers out because of COVID, they would shut us down. But we’ve been skirting that line all year.”
Ivatts and the Warriors doing their best to practice safe health habits.
“We haven’t been put into that (shutdown), but the way that things are going, it may be only a matter of time,” Ivatts said. “We’ll see. We’ve been down all year, we haven’t had a full lineup yet.”
Situations have risen where a 138-pounder might not have a comparable weight-class wrestler, say at 132 pounds or 145 pounds to match up with in practice. The same goes for meets, where a weight class and six points possibly would have to be forfeited due to a lack of an entry.
Coach Pat Coleman’s Norton High Lancers are slated for a Tri-Valley League match at home Wednesday against Dedham and then host a quad-meet Saturday with Mansfield.
Norton conducted practices through Thursday of the first Christmas vacation week and then ceased operations to allow to a mandatory five days of quarantining — positive COVID testing or not.
“Let’s have all of the athletes rest up and get rid of the virus,” Coleman said. “Kids were on their own and we’re back to work today (Monday) with a real good workout.”
Norton has just one asymptomatic student-athlete in the wrestling program due to contact tracing.
“We’d rather be safe,” Coleman said. “We understand that it’s going to be a challenge for the rest of the season.”
Coleman indicated that within the Norton program, there are a good number of junior varsity and backup wrestlers to fill in if need be in various weight classes.
“Like Dedham is coming over with only 10 kids on Wednesday, they have no backups,” he said. “In our case, we have backups in a lot of the weight classes. We’ll have somebody to fill in.”
As Ivatts noted, “putting a 126-pound kid out there to wrestle at 138 pounds in a varsity meet stinks. You don’t want to be forfeiting six points. It’s been a tough year for everybody.”
Hockey and basketball competition, in addition to swimming, gymnastics and track have all experienced the same health issues for student-athletes.
“The most frustrating part is that you can have a kid who is asymptomatic on Monday — he comes to school and goes to practice,” Ivatts said. “Then on Tuesday, he comes down with symptoms. You have no idea when or where he may have gotten sick. You have no idea how to manage the time frame.
“We’re trying to be extra careful. If you’re sick, stay home until you’re not sick anymore. It’s such a hard thing to manage.”
“I read the situation and the CDC is now saying that five days is the quarantine period,” Burgess said of the protocol. “So let’s try to take the next five days off and get our team to reset. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get back into it. It’s been a mess.”