High school wrestling weight classes won't change, but life should get easier for girls

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
Gettysburg's Montana DeLawder, bottom, wrestles against Dallastown's Zach Luckenbaugh, in December. Because of rule changes, life for high school female wrestlers, such as DeLawder, should get a little easier in the future. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The National Federation of State High School Association announced Tuesday that there are no changes to the 14 existing weight classes.

Some recommendations by the NFHS wrestling rules committee, however, were passed to accommodate the growing number of female wrestlers.

The 2020-21 high school wrestling rules changes are headlined by significant adjustments to weigh-in protocol and appropriate hair length requirements.

“These rule changes are some of the most prolific modifications in the history of high school wrestling,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and liaison to the Wrestling Rules Committee. “The rules committee made necessary, drastic changes to attract more young people to our sport without sacrificing the health and safety of the participants.”

Males, females will be able to weigh in together: Following an amendment to the legal uniform laid out in Rule 4-1-1c, which now permits female wrestlers to wear a form-fitted compression shirt that completely covers their breasts in addition to a one-piece singlet and a suitable undergarment, Rule 4-5-7 was rewritten to require that a legal uniform be worn during weigh-in and that no additional weight allowance be granted. An additional clause prohibiting shoes and ear guards during weigh-in also was added. 

Previously, weigh-ins consisted of shoulder-to-shoulder lineups of each contestant that: were separated by gender (4-5-2), took place a maximum of one hour prior to competition (4-5-1) and required supervision by a referee of each respective gender (4-5-4). 

With the institution of the legal uniform (one-piece singlet or two-piece), male and female wrestlers are now able to weigh-in together in the same lineup, allowing gender-specific language to be removed from all three rules. Additionally, the form-fitted compression shirt offers females a more suitable uniform for post-weigh-in skin checks, which are typically done by male officials.

“This action accommodates transgender children as well," Hopkins added. “It respects their rights and dignity and addresses any modesty concerns for any affected children.”

Female participation soaring: According to the NFHS athletics participation survey, the number of female wrestlers increased by almost 5,000 participants in 2018-19, with 21,124 girls competing in 2,890 schools.

There is a movement to have girls wrestling sanctioned as a sport in Pennsylvania. The PIAA, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, requires 100 girls programs before it will consider sanctioning the sport. Last month, Lancaster’s J.P. McCaskey was the first PIAA school to approve girls' wrestling. Others, including a couple in the Lehigh Valley, are expected to follow suit in the coming months.

Hair rule: Significant changes to the hair length rule (Rule 4-2-1) were made. Previously, a wrestler’s hair could not “extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar” in the back, below earlobe level on the sides or below the eyebrows in the front.

Those confinements, along with the requirement that a hair cover be used for hair that exceeded said limitations, were deleted. Considerable support for this rule change from coaches and officials was generated by an initiative of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, which successfully experimented with relaxed hair restrictions last winter.

“It is important to embrace the current culture of young boys and girls who are expressing themselves through their appearance, making this the perfect opportunity to extend wrestling to young people who otherwise would not be attracted to our sport," Hopkins said."

Other changes: In order to curtail participants from intentionally lacing their shoes too loosely to cause a stoppage in the action and potentially thwart an opponent’s scoring opportunity, a technical violation will be assessed Rule 4-1-3) in any instance where a shoe comes off, and the injury clock will be started to correct the situation.

Technical violations, Rule 7-3-1: To avoid penalizing a participant twice for the same sequence of events, wording was added to declare that points will not be awarded to a wrestler whose opponent has fled the mat if that wrestler already has scored for a near-fall or takedown.

Under Rule 8-1-4, a match automatically will be stopped and restarted in the event a wrestler commits a fourth stalling violation. Previously, if the offender was called for a fourth stall of the match while in the defensive or neutral position, there was no guarantee his or her opponent would be awarded choice of position through a restart if the violation occurred during the third period.

Based on the hair-length changes, Rule 5-29-1, which addresses unnecessary roughness, was edited to include “pulling an opponent’s hair” as an additional example of the offense.

Finally, Rule 8-2-9 was added to discourage wrestlers from requesting injury time from the official as an attempt to stop an opponent from scoring. If the referee determines a wrestler would have scored had the injury time-out not taken place, the injured contestant will be charged an injury time-out and applicable points will be awarded to the non-injured party.