Forfeits had been tipping the scales for smaller wrestling teams, so the PIAA has decided to take some weight off their shoulders.
During Wednesday’s PIAA Board of Directors meeting, a third and final reading was approved to reduce the number of weight classes from 14 to 13, beginning with the 2020-21 season.
The weight classes from 106-160 pounds will remain the same, as will the heavyweight limit of 285. But what was formerly the 170-, 182-, 195- and 220-pound divisions will be consolidated into 172, 189 and 215.
“I think the new weight classes will lead to more competitive duals and events for our team and some surrounding schools that also struggle with numbers,” said Elk Lake head coach Rob Gagaliardi. “I do understand that it also affects the larger schools and teams in the opposite way, which ultimately is cutting the number of varsity wrestlers. One thing that should happen is lead kids to want to improve more every day if they need to crack their starting lineup.”
Tunkhannock Area and Lackawanna Trail are two such schools that would have that adverse effect.
Tunkhannock won the District 2A team championship duals last season, edging out Trail, but two weeks later the Lions topped out over the Tigers in individual district competitions.
Tunkhannock Coach Gary Siegel completed his rookie campaign with the Tigers and took home impressive hardware as Wyoming Valley Conference Coach of the Year, as well as landing two wrestlers on the state podium, a first for the district’s program.
Siegel said, “I’m not a fan of the new rule. It takes away another opportunity for wrestling. At present Tunkhannock would have at least two kids per old weight (182, 195, 220, 285) classes. Now they will have to try to work into the three new weight classes (189, 215, 285).”
“As a high school wrestling coach you need the support of the football coaches,” he added. “Most football coaches don’t like to see players losing weight to wrestle.”
Thin lineups and forfeited bouts led the PIAA to propose a rules change to the National Federation of State High School Associations. But the NFHS stayed put at 14 classes for the upcoming season, leading to a PIAA wrestling steering committee to approve a recommendation to its own rules modification.
“We wrestled in New York last year, and it was a great opportunity as we are close to the state border. Well, the rest of the United States kept the same weight classes. The new weight classes may make trying to wrestle in New York too difficult now,” said Seigel.
An initial idea called for a drop to 12 weight classes. But that model proposed a raise in the minimum weight to 110 pounds, sparking some concern that lighter wrestlers trying to participate would be put at a disadvantage.
The new weight class structure keeps the lowest weight at 106 pounds. It also means only one fewer class to wrestle in- a positive for the teams that never have to worry about filling a roster, but now have a tougher time choosing starters.
Trail’s Keith Youtz agrees with Siegel, adding, “I don’t like losing the upper weight class. We have extra wrestlers in the upper weight classes. (PIAA) said the main reason to eliminate a weight class was because of forfeits, but coaches will still forfeit to help their team win a dual meet.”
Youtz, the Lackawanna League’s Coach of the Year, continued, “I’m hoping that we’re going to have a wrestling season at all this year.”
Colleen McAleer also contributed to this article.