In the 15 years that Pat Coleman has served as the wrestling coach at Norton High School, only once, in the program’s first year, have the Lancers had less than a .500 record. The Lancers have grappled successfully since then for 14 consecutive winning seasons.
During that span, Coleman and the Lancers have coveted two MIAA Division 3 State championships, a pair of MIAA Division 3 State runner-up spots and six MIAA Division 3 sectional titles.
The chase, the challenge will not occur during the 2020-21 winter season.
Year No. 16 for Coleman will, apparently, not occur as the EEA and MIAA has stamped a “high risk” label on the sport of wrestling and banished it from the list of sports with an approval for competition when the winter season will likely commence on Nov. 30.
With close, body-on-body contact, with sweat and bodily fluids being most commonplace, the potential for the transmission of the coronavirus has taken wrestlers statewide off of the mat.
“A couple of months ago things were starting to look better, but the recent spikes have really killed us,” Coleman said of the slim glimmer of hope that wrestling coaches had for a season.
“When we met 10 days ago, the coaches had a lot of ideas about it,” Coleman said of preseason discussions among wrestling coaches statewide. “We kind of agreed that maybe we shouldn’t even start until the first week of January, that we should only wrestle in dual meets. One of the things that we thought was going in our favor was that wrestling, while being a contact sport is one on one.” The 103-pound wrestlers were not mingling with the 145 pounders or the 182 pounders. “Once those two kids were done (after three two-minute periods or less) and come back and put their mask on and socially distance and the next two guys go out.
“Then when you think about basketball and there’s 10 kids bumping around over a long period of time. We kind of hoped that one-on-one for six minutes would allow for it. But, it was out of our hands.”
According to North Attleboro High wrestling coach Geoff Burgess, “we thought that it would be unlikely that we would get to compete,” under the EEA and state guidelines. “I thought maybe moving to the wedge (fall-2 or gap) season or spring would allow wrestling athletes to get a chance to compete. That looks unlikely now as well because of the close contact and being indoors.
“It looks like wrestling is a no-go this year. A lot of the wrestling coaches have been hoping and pushing for a spring season, even if it just within the Hockomock League so as to give some of the kids a chance to compete.”
The problem then becomes extracting student-athletes who may be more committed to playing baseball or lacrosse, the traditional spring sports. “I think we would have a tough time fielding a competitive team if we moved to the spring,” Burgess said.
Bill Ivatts, the Foxboro High School wrestling coach, was among nearly 90 of his peers from around the state who convened for a virtual meeting to discuss the situation two weeks ago. “I would hope that they would give us a shot at competing in the spring,” he said. “I hope that they (EEA, MIAA) look at the numbers. I think that it would be a dis-service to the kids if they didn’t let them compete at some poins. We talked about moving the season to a January start or to the spring season, which I think is fair,” he said.
“All the winter sports are pushing to go to the spring season. But, I get it, spring has already lost a season,” Ivatts said of what would be each school’s competition for available athletes among coaches. “You wouldn’t want a kid to miss the year, especially if you’re a senior. But, wouldn’t you want to give the kid a choice (among sports)”
“With what we know now about the virus, I think there is the chance to compete a little bit, that they (EEA, MIAA) take it under consideration — hopefully they can make it work.
“The good thing about wrestling is that it’s one-on-one, unlike basketball where you have 10 kids out there at the same time. In wrestling, it’s just one guy against the other for six minutes, it’s a pretty controlled environment.”
Ivatts has some seven Warrior seniors who are wrestlers “and I have a few kids talking to me about wrestling at Division III (collegiately) schools, whether they think they can do it. When you think about the kids who have put in the work, three or four years here at Foxboro High, it’s hard to take that (competition) away from them. There are a lot of kids in the same position, hoping to get some looks, a lot of schools in the same position looking at kids.”
The proposals by the wrestling coaches will be reviewed by the MIAA, but whether there will be any re-considerations is indefinite.
At present there are a number of wrestling clubs within the state that attract high school wrestlers to compete in amateur meets where states allow such competition, such as New Hampshire and New Jersey. “There’s a big tournament down in Maryland this weekend that a lot of clubs went down to,” Ivatts said. “There are opportunities to wrestle, but it’s different.
“It stinks, but wrestling is a different sport, the kids are all over each other. Right now, we’re not ready for wrestling, I totally get that.”
Those one-on-one bonds that develop between student-athletes and coaches, the maturation process, the life-long relationships that are cultivated will be missed.
“I’m disappointed because I love coaching and we have a nice program here at Norton High,” Coleman said. “In terms of our overall talent we were going to be very strong.”
The Lancers trio of co-captains among the six seniors are 170-pounder Nick Andreason and 182 pounder Nathan Arduino, both Division 3 Meet and state meet qualifiers along with 145-pounder Johvon Morson. Add in 108-pounder Steven Chaffee, a Division 3 Meet champion and No. 3 finisher at the MIAA State Meet and 220-pounder Ray Rodriguez who qualified for the sectional and state meet and Norton would have been contending for Tri-Valley League and Division 3 Meet championships.
“These are high level kids, maybe not nationally ranked kids, but kids who could compete in college,” Coleman said. “We’ve always been tough to beat as a result.”
When Coleman started the wrestling program back in the winter of 2005-06, “the seniors were saying to me that if we don’t wrestle varsity, we’ll never earn a letter!” Wrestling, competing and representing their high school was indeed a very big deal for student-athletes.
“I’ll always remember that season because we lost eight in a row, then we won our ninth and finished 11-15. In our third year, we won the league championship.”
All of those one-on-one duals, the stepping stones to greater goals will be lost without a wrestling season.
“I’m not too optimistic at this point, it’s a shame,” Coleman continued. “All the club tournaments will not substitute wrestling for your own high school and what that means, the dual meets, the sectionals, the states.”