EDITORIAL: Wrestling with hard choice

York Dispatch
  • A Littlestown wrestler lost a controversial decision by injury default after he bumped heads with a foe
  • The head trainer ruled he should not continue after the wrestler said he had a slight headache
  • Littlestown's coach was upset because he said the wrestler had a headache before the match started

Wrestling is a demanding and grueling sport.

Those who excel at it must be tough, determined, smart and in peak physical condition.

Those are all attributes to be admired.

Sometimes, however, a wrestler's toughness and determination can be his (or her) own worst enemy.

It's not uncommon for wrestlers to put their health at risk, just so they can compete, and win, not just for themselves, but also for their teams, their coaches and their schools.

Wrestlers often bump heads while competing. That happened on Saturday during a District 3-AA sectional match, and it led to a Littlestown wrestler suffering a loss by injury default when he told the head trainer he had a slight headache after butting heads with his foe.

In the past, there were horror stories about wrestlers who cut so much weight so quickly that they would appear emaciated and wobbly when weighing in before a match. Other wrestlers would continue to compete despite suffering injuries that should have clearly stopped the action.

Thankfully, the sport has made great strides in recent years to protect the wrestlers from themselves.

Strict guidelines have been set up to prevent unhealthy weight loss. And there are now protocols in place to determine if an injury is serious enough to stop a match.

That includes concussion protocols.

Controversial decision: Those protocols were the subject of a controversial decision over the weekend at the District 3-AA Section I Tournament at Susquenita High School.

A York-Adams wrestler, Littlestown's Carl Harris, was leading Bermudian's Ashton West 5-3 in their 145-pound consolation bout with less than a minute left when action was stopped after the wrestlers bumped heads.

After some discussion, the independent head trainer, who was a medical doctor, ruled that Harris would not be allowed to continue because Harris said he had a slight headache.

Littlestown's head coach, Kerry Ferguson, was clearly unhappy with the decision, feeling that Harris was fully capable of continuing. He said Harris had the headache before the match even started.

Despite Ferguson's protests, the trainer's ruling stood and Harris lost the match by injury default.

Harris' postseason will continue, but, because of the loss, his road to a possible District 3 medal got much more difficult. He was eliminated from potentially competing for third place to finishing in sixth at the sectional.

Right person made decision: The decision was rightly left in the hands of the independent medical professional. You can't leave those kinds of decisions to the wrestlers or their coaches. They have too much invested, especially in the heat of the competitive moment, to make an impartial decision.

That's why the trainers are there — to protect the athletes.

That's not to say that Ferguson didn't care about Harris' health. The coach was completely convinced his wrestler was not in any danger, and he may have been absolutely correct in his judgment.

Still, the trainer, who would not divulge his name or make a comment, did what he believed was in Harris' best interest.

Was he overly cautious? Perhaps. But it's better to err on the side of caution, rather than lament a poor decision after a preventable tragedy.

And head injuries can lead to tragedies. The York Dispatch recently detailed the significant dangers of concussions on young athletes. Second-impact concussion syndrome can even be deadly.

Decisions such as the one the trainer made Saturday have to be made in seconds, or at most minutes. They are incredibly difficult choices, and not everyone is going to be happy. That's the nature of beast.

York area deals with concussions in youth sports

But there is no doubt that Saturday's decision was made in the proper way and by the proper person.

In the long run, that's the best we can hope for.