What will be the impact of the new high school weight classes?

Updated: September 6, 2011

By WIN Magazine Staff Writer Willie Saylor

In April, and after a multi-year study, the National Federation of State High School Associations approved an amended weight-class system for wrestling competition. That’s not breaking news; by now the wrestling community has read and reacted to the impending changes. What have not been fully extrapolated are the ramifications.

The first wholesale changes since 1988, the 2011-2012 weight classes are sure to have an impact on the landscape of high school wrestling.


The Changes

In 1989, the NFHS went from 12 weight classes to 13, dropping 98 pounds and adding a middleweight and 171 pounds. This system remained unchanged until the beginning of the 2002 season, when 215 pounds was added, bringing the line-up to 14 wrestlers.

While the number of wrestlers in the varsity line-up (14) will remain the same this year, the changes are significant. Here is a side-by-side view:

Old Weights:  103, 112, 119, 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 152, 160, 171, 189, 215, 285

New Weights: 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, 285

Notably, the minimum weight class of 103 pounds will be moved up to 106 pounds. In the middle, one weight class was removed between 130 and 145 pounds. Up top, 182 pounds is introduced as, essentially, a brand new weight class.

(Note: USA Wrestling, In conjunction with the recently approved NFHS weight classes, new weight classes were approved for the Cadet and Junior divisions, August 24, which are listed below:
Cadet: 88, 94, 100*, 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, 285.
Junior: 100, 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, 285.

In Cadet, 88 and 94 are non-NFHS weight classes, as is the case with 100 pounds in the Junior division.)


The Response

The NFHS maintains that throughout the study, which identified the weights of high school wrestling participants, “each state association was kept completely informed and was provided multiple opportunities for input.”

However, the subsequent fallout after the approval and press release of the weight changes suggest otherwise. There are currently several petitions being written, in several states, fighting for weight classes to remain the same.

The disconnect appears to come from the process in which state athletic boards, composed of elected officials, often doctors or lawyers, which largely have little or no wrestling or sport-specific knowledge, vote on NFHS changes.

Many high school wrestling coaches felt blindsided by the decision to change weights, and that the dialogue and democratic process occurred between the NFHS and state boards, who don’t have a firm grasp of high school wrestling dynamics.


The Impact

While each and every detail of the 2011 weight change might not rear its head for a season or two, there are a few issues that seem inevitable.

1. The Talent Glut in the Middle

High school wrestlers from 130 through 145 pounds have historically been some of the most talented and competitive athletes in our sport. Now, high school wrestling is giving them fewer opportunities. The consolidation within this range, from four spots to just three, will create situations where many talented wrestlers are cutting heavily, bumping up or sitting on the bench.

2. The Watered-Down Effect

In 2001, there were three weight classes above 170 pounds: 171, 189 and heavyweight. Just a decade later, we have five.

What rationale is there for it? Has the talent level amongst these upper weights increased so dramatically that a 40 percent increase in varsity spots within this range is warranted?

This is one of the biggest contentions of the new weight classes, and one of the most legitimate criticisms of the state boards exacting such measures on faulty studies and logic. Creating more weight classes because the population is up at a certain weight range, doesn’t exactly help the sport. The problem is, you can’t quantify talent. And this is something that eludes state decision-makers. Expect to see JV-level athletes occupying varsity positions in this range.

3. College Recruiting Mess

Good luck to the college recruiters who have to figure out if the multiple-time state champion upper weight is a legitimate college prospect or not. And expect to see more fifth-place finishers at, say, 138, go on to college success than what has historically been the case. The playing field isn’t exactly level and the high school weights aren’t doing any favors to college scouts.

4. The ‘103 Debate’

This is virtually a separate issue. It isn’t likely to dramatically affect teams nationwide, but is a more ethical decision. What is more important: providing opportunities for, and development of, smaller athletes, or enabling smaller programs that can’t consistently field a 103-pounder to remain competitive in dual meets?