Big wrestling meets not worth it this late in the season

Jamie Yonkin could have spent the initial moments of his post-match interview lauding the effort his Montoursville wrestlers put forth in a 31-27 loss to Hughesville on Tuesday night. Nobody could have blamed him for doing so, either.

But the Warriors’ head coach is a big picture kind of guy. More important than Nolan Ott’s final-match performance, or Morgan Comini’s stellar comeback win, Yonkin was focused on the big picture.

“First and foremost, I’m happy everyone made it through with no injuries,” Yonkin said. “I hope (Hughesville’s Robert White’s) knee isn’t too bad. I saw he was limping. I hope he’s ready to go for the postseason.”

The truth is Hughesville and Montoursville never should have wrestled Tuesday night. Montoursville probably never should have wrestled Lewisburg on Monday night, either. Not after what they’ve been through the last few weeks with the district and state duals tournaments.

In fact, if it had been up to Yonkin and Hughesville coach Steve Budman, the two wouldn’t have wrestled Tuesday night. Both were fine with sharing the Heartland-II championship they were wrestling for. Both teams were beat up. Both teams could have used the day off more than the black and gold plaque they were wrestling for. But the league Heartland Athletic Conference by-laws state that, “all conference games must be played”. It just so happened that this match also determined the HAC-II champion.

The question which has to be asked – just four days before the individual postseason starts with sectional tournaments – is was the match worth it? Was it really worth the physical toll it took on two already beaten up teams to make sure the conference schedule was completed?

Montoursville was wrestling for the fourth time in six days, and two of them were at the state duals tournament in Hershey last weekend. To follow it up with having to wrestle teams like Lewisburg and Hughesville, two of the top six teams from the district duals tournament just over a week after going through grueling district duals tournament, just doesn’t seem right with the most important part of the season staring them in the face.

“I think it’s too much for the kids,” Yonkin said. “Part of it is you can’t control the weather. Our Lewisburg match was canceled because it was too cold out. Hughesville was moved because of states. Once we found out we were going to Hershey, we were pretty convinced our dual-meet season was over. But to come back here and fight through two other matches, I’m so proud of our kids. I couldn’t have asked for more effort. I just wish they’d move sectionals back two days so they’d have that full week to rest. But it’s part of the sport.”

It shouldn’t be part of the sport, though. We’re talking about high school kids here, some as young as 14 years old. Should they really be put through the kind of added physical punishment which comes with two duals like the ones Montoursville wrestled this week needlessly?

This time of the season is rough enough. Sickness is running rampant through wrestling rooms throughout the state. Competition is getting tougher and tougher. When possible, it’s in the best interest of the wrestlers – remember, we’re talking about high school kids here – to let them rest. This was an opportunity for the Heartland Conference to put common sense above any rules which may already be in place.

This was an opportunity for the powers that be to look at what Montoursville, Lewisburg and Hughesville have been through in the last two weeks and say, you know what, these matches just aren’t that important.

“It’d be nice to have the rest, especially since I’ve been sick,” said Hughesville’s Zach Fry, who’s been afflicted with a cold after just recovering from a stomach flu. “But I haven’t wrestled a full match in a while and I knew it’d be a good six-minute match. It’s a good way to wrestle even with the cold. It’s good practice to get used to wrestling with a cold.”

Making these teams wrestle puts both the wrestlers and the coaches in a tough spot. There’s not a team in the state who isn’t dealing with the nicks and cuts and bumps and bruises of a physical sport like wrestling. So just four days ahead of the individual postseason, the true apex of every high school wrestler’s season, wrestlers are being put in a position of having to wrestle when they could use a day off. And coaches have the unenviable task of deciding whether someone who could use a day off should wrestle if he’s going to help the team win.

Tuesday night that meant White bumping up a weight class despite dealing with a sore left knee. It meant Fry bumping up a weight in the decisive bout of the night while dealing with sickness.

“But they wanted the chance to (win the league title) because it’s something that will be here for a long time,” Budman said. “That’s really a questionable call on my part because they’re high school kids and do they really understand the decision they’re making?”

It would appear both teams could take the three days following their dual Tuesday night and prior to the Central Sectional on Saturday to rest up, go easy in the practice room and make sure they’re as close to 100 percent as possible. But Yonkin said he can’t afford to do that with his team, not if he wants them ready for what could be the deepest and most competitive of the three sectionals.

“Every day we miss in the room will hurt us down the road,” Yonkin said. “They’re going to have to be there. We might have to cut back on them (Wednesday), but we’re going to have to try and get at least one more good, hard practice in before that day.”

That’s not the approach a coach should have to have heading into the most important weekends of the season. Sometimes, just sometimes, common sense needs to kick in with those in charge. Yonkin and Budman knew it wasn’t a good idea for their teams to wrestle, so why force them?

Is one more slash in the win or loss column really worth it?