Spring Grove senior Jared Barley draws the envy and the ire of his wrestling teammates simultaneously.
While most members of the Rockets' wrestling program are constantly watching what they eat and how much, Barley is an outlier in the sport. He has the benefit of being a strong wrestler, capable of wrestling well above his normal weight, which allows him the luxury of not having to cut weight, but rather maintain it. It still requires Barley to watch what he eats, but at least he can eat.
Barley is Spring Grove's 182-pound wrestler, but normally finds himself comfortably walking around at 180 pounds, giving himself some cushion to put on weight if he lets himself go at all. Occasionally, he'll even bump up to 195 pounds, giving Rockets' head coach Tony Miller flexibility with his lineup.
"I watch Jared at lunch. He’s the type of kid who doesn’t eat our school lunch," Miller said after a practice earlier this season. "He brings his own chicken and rice mixture of all kinds of healthy stuff and that’s his regimen. He knows that’s what’s going to give him energy later. He’s thinking about fueling his body rather than starving his body."
On the mat, wrestlers can put themselves through six minutes of anguish during a match, but that's only half the battle. Perhaps even more grueling is what wrestlers go through when they're not in a bout. The 48 or 72 hours between matches often requires just as much discipline, if not more, than when they're actually competing on the mat.
Shedding pounds: Cutting weight and wrestling go hand-in-hand. Unless you're a fortunate individual, such as Barley, you can't get through a season without doing it over and over again.
It's also one of the things that, unless you've personally done it, you can't really relate to a wrestler who has to drop five or six pounds in a two-day period. It's simple to ask them if it would be easier to maintain a strict diet, rather than pigging out on food after a match and then starving themselves over the ensuing 48 hours, but when you can't have something for even a small period of time, any chance you get to indulge tastes that much better.
"It wouldn’t be as fun," Dallastown senior Bryce Shields said during York-Adams League winter sports media day. "I enjoy eating a lot and hydrating myself with a lot of high-calorie sport drinks and high-calorie foods to give you energy, but then you use energy to lose weight, so it’s like it cancels.”
Health concerns: Shields, who isn't having to go through as much weight cutting this year as in years past because he's wrestling up at 220 pounds and, occasionally, heavyweight, said between matches he would sometimes add anywhere from eight to 10 pounds and then be forced to lose it all by the next match. Predictably, that type of binge eating and then starvation isn't good for a person's body. Those type of eating and starvation habits can stay with a person well after their wrestling careers are over. Even more severe is the long-term effect that extreme dehydration practices can have on a wrestler's organs, causing them to not function properly as the person gets older.
What some local wrestlers are finding out is, while eating a lot after a match is fine, what they eat is just as important.
Watching what you eat: At Spring Grove, Miller meets with the parents of all of his wrestlers before every season and they set up a training table that is a collection of healthy foods for the athletes to eat after matches and on away trips.
Dalton Rohrbaugh, the Rockets' state bronze medalist as a sophomore a year ago, is about as versatile a wrestler as there is. A year ago, he wrestled all season long at 113 pounds and then cut even more weight to get down to 106 for the postseason, eventually finishing third in the state at the weight class. This year, he bulked up in the offseason to prepare to wrestle at 120, but because of unforeseen circumstances, he had to drop back down to 113.
All of that has made him realize that, while binge eating after bouts can be enjoyable, sticking to a strict diet will allow him to have more energy for matches and continue to compete at the elite level.
"I try to stick to a strict diet," he said. "I just go home and work out a couple more times so I can eat, but I’m definitely guilty of eating too much than I should after a weigh-in.”
Added Miller, "I think Dalton’s starting to figure that out the older he gets and the smarter he gets, you can go up and down and punish yourself, or you can kind of do it the right way and stay a gradual steady."
Rohrbaugh wrestles a lot more than most area wrestlers after the school season ends, competing in national events. Once he does get a break from the sport, he said he tries to stay around 126 or 127 pounds, but has weighed as much as 133 pounds.
All about discipline: Last season, West York junior Nathan Townsley had to face the grim reality that comes with trying to cut too much weight in a short span of time. As a sophomore, he qualified for the District 3 tournament at 113 pounds, but showed up to the event overweight, disqualifying him from competing in his second district tournament in as many years. As a freshman, he took sixth.
During the offseason, most wrestlers will walk around about seven or eight pounds heavier than what they'll wrestle. Part of it has to do with carrying extra fat and then, when you cut that weight, you're left with lean, chiseled physiques. But, one local wrestler believes there's something more to it, and it all has to do with the underlying theme in wrestling.
"The whole wrestling thing is discipline," West York's 170-pound sophomore Jaedan Thomas said back on media day. "So, if you can go a higher weight versus a lower weight, I think it’s always better to cut down to the lower weight.”
It might not be easiest or sometimes the healthiest way to go about wrestling, but every time a wrestler steps on the scale and makes weight for his or her bout, they've already won half the battle.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.