Exciting wrestling moves can also become scary

Updated: January 16, 2014

By Mike Finn

National statistics tell us the most wrestlers are on the high school level. My sense also tells me that’s where most of the injuries occur in our sport.

At least that’s how I feel after watching plenty of high school wrestling the past month … on either the national level at the Walsh Ironman or simply on the local level in Iowa where I live.

I was there to watch the son of someone close to me compete in one of hundreds of high school tournaments that take place in relatively small high school gymnasiums all over the country. Unfortunately, I also saw him forced to withdraw from the tournament when he suffered a “mild” concussion after his opponent took him from their feet to his head as the opponent whipped him back and tried to cradle him from the standing position.

Needless to say, the parents of this young man were upset, especially the father who also coaches his son and was not happy that the official did not call a slam.

Fortunately, the high school senior is wrestling again, but that moment where he blacked out for a moment, then asked for something to throw up into while sitting on the mat, made me wonder. How often does this happen? And how aware are referees when it comes to looking out for illegal and potentially dangerous moves as much as they do for wrestling points, nearfalls and pins.

John Johnson has officiated on both the high school and college level for the past 20 years.

John Johnson (right) has officiated on both the high school and college level for the past 20 years.

“Al Beste, the executive director of the Iowa High School athletic Association, does a great job with the high school officials in terms of not only working with us personally, but also with training videos that appear on the Iowa High School Association website,” said John Johnson, who has viewed wrestling as up close as any one I know considering this high school administrator also has photographed and officiated wrestling on the high school and college levels for the past 20 years.

John, who also has a son who wrestled on both levels, is well aware of injuries that occur in this sport, especially on the high school level where athletes — some who don’t know their own strength and can be awkward at times — put themselves and their opponents in harm’s way by trying something new.

“Students are using different moves they are seeing in upper levels,” John said. “There is one right now we are trying to watch hard where kids come off to the side, where they are parallel to the other wrestler and grabbing like a front headlock and they are purposely somersaulting up and over, which is an illegal move. But they are still trying to do it anyway or they try to take out their opponent’s knee, which is really dangerous. But again, this is something they are seeing other athletes do.”

John, who took a four-year break from officiating while his son competed in high school, noticed the technique level became better on the high school level once he returned.

The one thing that has not changed are the opinions from those outside the mat’s circle, who have different opinions one whether something is dangerous or not.

“Sometimes kids, coaches and parents are squawking just to be squawking,” said John, who find these participants more willing to allow certain moves as they get closer to state qualifying tournaments.

“You don’t want to stop a match,” he said. “But I always err on the side of safety as opposed to watching a move go too far and have someone say, ‘you should have stopped that.’ And then in the back of your mind, you are saying, ‘I should have stopped it.’ ”

There is usually risk before any reward when it comes wrestling. Let’s hope everyone in the sport understands what is more important.

(Mike Finn has covered amateur wrestling for over 25 years. He welcomes your comments about WIN Magazine or any article at MikeF@WIN-magazine.com.)