Roger Barbee: Many voices against a bad decision carry weight

Roger Barbee

The photograph of the high school wrestler spoke many words. He, the winning 160-pound wrestler at the Virginia High School League state wrestling tournament in Salem on Feb. 20, stood on the podium with the other place winners. He was not wearing his winner’s medal on his chest like the other three placing wrestlers, but had flipped it to his back showing only the ribbon around his neck. His was not the only protest — a Civic Center worker retrieved from a trash can a medal that had been discarded by a place-winning wrestler.

What would cause high school wrestlers to protest in such a manner, somewhat similar to that of the United States sprinters in the 1968 Olympics?

The league manages all athletic and academic contests for public schools in the commonwealth. It has much responsibility and power. However, its power cannot control the weather, and because of impending snow storms, the wrestling tournaments on Feb. 20 in Fairfax and Salem had to be altered. The league, for safety concerns, reduced the eight-wrestler bracket to a single elimination format, instead of the usual double elimination one. This was not a decision that any wrestler, wrestling coach, or wrestling parent wanted, but because of severe weather it had to be this way. However, is this the decision that drove such a protest from two high school wrestlers? I don’t think so.

The league has an executive committee that is composed of 31 voting members that includes a principal from each region, eight division superintendents of schools, six supervisors of athletics/activities at a member school, and others such as two members of the Virginia General Assembly. It is this committee that makes decisions affecting all student-athletes in the commonwealth.

The names of its members and their schools can be found on the league website. While those members are not responsible for such weather as we experienced during the wrestling tournaments, they are the ones who voted to re-align athletics from three divisions to six for Virginia high schools and to make the state wrestling tournament an eight-wrestler bracket instead of the standard 16-wrestler bracket.

I suggest that it is these two decisions, more than the weather-mandated one, that caused the massive frustration felt by all wrestling fans this past weekend.

Each sport is different, and each has its own needs and requirements. I don’t know that the re-alignment into six divisions is good or bad for other sports, but I believe it to be detrimental to wrestling. By creating six divisions, the executive board has watered-down wrestling competition at the tournament level by naming six champions instead of the previous three, and made that decision even worse by reducing the size of the state wrestling tournament by half. For the second year since those decisions have been enacted, wrestlers compete in a 16-wrestler bracket at the regional level and then advance to an eight-wrestler bracket for a state tournament. The frustration has been building, and the two wrestlers who protested demonstrate, I believe, this frustration with the decisions the league had made concerning wrestling.

In a 1787 letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson writes: ” I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing … .”

While I do not agree with what the two high school wrestlers did at the state tournament in Salem, I share their frustration with this system created by the executive committee. However, I believe that there are better ways to change this situation than throwing away an earned medal or not wearing it on the winner’s podium. (I hope, by the way, that a coach and or a parent corrected such behavior).

The people who have made the two decisions that so adversely affect wrestling are our principals, our superintendents and neighbors. Let’s all visit the league website and find out who our local members of the executive committee are. Then, let’s all contact each of them and let them know how bad their decisions are for the sport of wrestling.

The next meeting of the league executive committee is in, I believe, May. The committee allows any citizen three minutes to discuss an issue. Let’s use that option and fill the 30-minute slot allowed for all comments. Let’s use our collected voice, not just a solitary coach, to change a decision that is bad for our wrestlers by telling the executive committee that three divisions leading to a 16-wrestler bracket for the state tournament is best. Many voices carry weight.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at red-hill@shentel.net.