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Letters to the Editor

"Problems with the Junior Folkstyle Wrestling Tournaments in Utah"

Hi Bill,

This is Coach Unsworth at Kearns Junior High. We are new to wrestling against the state junior high teams because of District policies that I
choose to ignore this year. But, I see a problem with the junior folkstyle wrestling tournaments in Utah.

One, there are NO paid, trained officials that are Refereeing our matches, just high school boys that do not even know all the rules. These tournaments are bringing in a lot of cash to pay officials in which officials should be used and the rest can go to the program.

Two, coaches that do not go by a set of guidelines like The NFHS rule book. I see a lot of freestyle move that are being used and injuring a lot of kids at these meets. I also see a lot of illegal holds.  For instance, in the NFHS rule book they have pictures of all the illegal moves. For example: (7-1-7) the over the top head lock while standing or the throwing an opponent to the mat without placing a knee down on the mat first.

Three, coaches that are coaching wrong techniques for folkstyle. Again, NFHS rule book.

Four, organization of tournaments and placing of kids in the tournaments.  Listen to the coach he/she should know the abilities of his/her athletes and where to be placed.

Glen Kawa at Kearns High School can help find officials for tournaments and for questions. We need these rules to become more effective at hosting tournaments and cutting down injuries.

Kearns Junior High would like to host a Tournament next year.  What are the guidelines to go about this?

Thank you,

Coach Unsworth
Kearns Junior High

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Reader's Response

Coach Unsworth brings up some very valid points.

The reason we go with high school refs are

  1. Cost. We have tried to keep costs down. If we were to add certified refs we would need to charge fans and/or up the sign up fee from $10 to $15. Currently, at these tournaments, we get what we pay for. Ten bucks and no charge for parents is a pretty good deal.

  2. Availability of refs. I remember a few years ago trying to get certified refs. I ordered 10 and 5 showed up. It might be better now and Unsworth urged more people to get certified. Perhaps dads who are going to stay at a Jr. tournament all day might want to get certified and earn a pay check.

  3. Are Jr. High tournaments too much like combat pay? They are hard on the refs. It is a long day with many matches, with emotionally changed fans. (So then we let high school refs go through it).

If we as a state want to go with certified refs, then there would need to an understanding of the costs. Tournaments might not be as big. There are so many things that we like as wrestlers and trade offs are hard. Currently ending time is the top priority. 

Keep talking wrestling, Utah.

John Allan
Spanish Fork Junior High

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Editor's Response

Coach Unsworth:

I agree with much of what you said about mat officials.  Having untrained officials at tournaments is a big problem in Utah.  In traveling out of state for wrestling tournaments, I can't tell you how many times people have come up to ask me, "Is it true that in Utah, you pull referees out of the stands?"  Although this is not the norm, it has happened.  I've seen it.  In fact, I've even done it myself, calling on people who I know are good officials to come out of the stands to officiate.  There are training and certification programs out there where parents and other supporters can become good mat officials.  But those programs, by and large, are not supported here. 

For instance, at the Mountain Top Classic last year, I required that all mat officials be certified.  I thought it was a good step in the right direction, requiring certification.  Then the rest would follow.  However, as a result, people who usually officiated on a weekly basis flat out refused.  Some even went to the extreme of confronting me over it, saying that they give enough to the sport, they shouldn't be expected to become certified, as well. 

It's a big problem for this state.  Wyoming, which has the smallest population per square mile of any state in the country, is one of the top three states in the country for number of certified mat and pairing officials.  There, it is not only expected, it is required.  And going to tournaments in Wyoming is a real pleasure, because the officiating is, in general, excellent.  But people seem unwilling to draw that hard line in Utah, so we continue with status quo, where standard operating procedure is to allow things that should not be allowed, taking matches away from the winning wrestler and, in general, making a tournament a less enjoyable experience.

Thank you for voicing your frustrations.  It's only by bringing problems to light that they can be dealt with and improve wrestling in Utah.

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Reader's Response

I, too, agree with some of the points made by the above coaches. It is one of the reasons I have been very reluctant to allow my son to wrestle in the freestyle tournaments. I don't blame the officials who, for the most part are kids, some still in elementary. Not only do these kids not know all the rules and regulations, but they are bombarded by overbearing and, in some cases ill-tempered parents. I've seen kids change a call simply because they were pressured to do so by a screaming parent. What you get is a two-fold problem: A kid potentially getting injured on the mat and another kid getting verbally abused by a parent. The experience should be an enjoyable one for all involved. Wrestling has an "just suck it up and go out there" attitude. That's fine when the playing field is even, or in this case safe. It's truly a credit to the outstanding coaching that many of these kids receive that no kid has been seriously injured. When a serious injury does occur, and it seems almost inevitable, the argument over not needing certified officials will be an empty one. We should be proactive rather than reactive.

Fred Falcon
Kearns High Wrestling Coach
Grappler's West Wrestling Club

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Editor's Response to Response

Coach Falcon:

Well stated.  I just wanted to clarify a couple points. 

Although there are some young mat officials at freestyle tournaments, they are usually pretty knowledgeable.  If they were not, then the head official(s) would not have allowed them to officiate.  Also, young officials are not supposed to officiate matches unless the wrestlers are in age groups below them.  So, for example, a Novice wrestler (ages 11 and 12) officiating a match, should only be officiating matches for Midgets (ages 9 and 10), Bantams (ages 7 and 8) and Flyweights (ages 6 and under).  This is intended to help prevent the wrestlers from outstripping the official's experience.  The head officials are fighting an uphill battle to get good mat officials and are trying to use this as a training ground to bring up good officials, experienced and trained.

However, this does not preclude the intimidation factor you mentioned.  I once had a young mat official who was actually very good.  He knew the rules and, in this case, knew that the opposing wrestler was trying to injure my wrestler, because he could not win the match within the confines of the rules.  Even worse, the wrestler did what he did because he was instructed to do so by his coach.  The official (who was probably 12 years old), stopped the match and penalized the offending wrestler for brutality, called for a Caution, and awarded my wrestler a point.  The opposing coach then proceeded to blow a gasket, marched out on the mat and proceeded to yell at him until the kid was intimidated into changing the call.  It was very disappointing, because this individual is the head coach at a high school with one of the most successful programs in the state.  (It was a very disheartening experience, to say the least.)

So I can certainly sympathize.  And, again, all I can ask is that parents take a more active role in running tournaments.  Not only is the help necessary, but certification and training is a must.  Although we as coaches and tournament directors certainly appreciate all the time and sacrifice parents put in, it's simply not enough to volunteer your time ... it needs to be done right.  As you said, Coach Falcon, not only does it put the athletes at risk, but it prevents parents from bringing their wrestlers out to tournaments.  Neither of which is anything any of us wants.

Thank you for stating that so well and taking the time to articulate your thoughts and contribute to the improvement of wrestling in Utah.

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