Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only half of the 48 wrestling teams in Section 1 will compete this winter. Edgemont is among that group. Scarsdale, currently, is not.
Last week, a majority of the Scarsdale Board of Education (BOE)/administration said they were not comfortable allowing wrestling competitions, but gave a green light for the team to practice. The board said they were told to make a decision based on guidance from both New York State and the Westchester County Department of Health (DOH). However, the two entities gave conflicting guidance and Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the local county DOHs the final word. State guidance and a Section 1 schools agreement said athletes must wear masks at all times with the exception of swimmers and divers in water, skiers on runs, cross-country runners when there is great distance between competitors and gymnasts on apparatus.
But the county DOH cited American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidance, which said, “During wrestling contact, a cloth face covering could become a choking hazard and is discouraged.”
By using the word “discouraged,” the AAP did not issue a clear prohibition, and therefore neither did the county DOH.
Still, the BOE grapples with this language.
By signing a required informed consent form, high-risk athletes and their parents acknowledge they are taking greater risk of COVID-19 exposure. Nonetheless, it does not waive the school district from liability and, in the end, the district would be accountable if it goes against the DOH guidelines, approves wrestling and something goes awry.
We would argue that although wrestling is a sport with the most direct and prolonged intimate contact, it could actually be safer when it comes to exposure. A wrestler would have one or two practice partners on his own team and during a dual meet (there will be no tournaments) a wrestler would only be exposed to one opponent for at most six minutes of match time, with potential overtime.
At soccer games and cross-country meets in the fall, athletes’ masks were frequently off their noses and mouths during intense moments of action and those athletes were exposed to many others on their own team and the visiting team. The same goes for high-risk indoor sports, like basketball and ice hockey, both of which have been approved to compete this winter.
As for masks being a potential choking hazard, coaches and officials are well trained to look for things that present danger to wrestlers, such as loose head gear, chokeholds, blocked eyes or airways, and dangerous arm positions. Officials are used to stopping matches for safety. Surely they can handle a choking hazard posed by a mask getting caught on something as well as the risk of it accidently impairing the vision of a wrestler.
Wrestling is also well known for the spread of skin diseases and bloody noses. But coaches and officials are accustomed to intense sanitizing protocols. In this current pandemic environment, they can certainly add more layers of precaution.
The district has been seeking clarification or a rule change from the DOH to no avail thus far. As has been the case all summer and school year, requests such as this have gone unanswered by state and local officials, according to Scarsdale Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman and Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi.
Scarsdale’s wrestling team is currently practicing with full contact and, weather permitting, intended to have its 10 required practices finished by Tuesday, Feb. 23. The season ends March 14, so the time to reconsider the decision to compete is now. If they can safely wrestle in masks in practice, surely they can do the same against other schools, too.
Since the next regularly scheduled school board meeting is not until March 8, time is of the essence. We urge the Scarsdale Board of Education to call a special meeting as soon as possible to approve wrestling for competition and give wrestlers a chance to engage in a three-week competitive season.
And while they’re at it, let the fall teams (football, volleyball and cheerleading) and spring team (boys lacrosse) know you’re behind them, too. If you want to keep your students in a controlled environment and show concern for the athletes’ mental well-being, it’s your best play.