Gilroy – When Gilroy wrestler Nico Naranjo went to the wrestling
state championships in March, he had 14 opportunities to
successfully weigh in at his 103-pound weight class. After nine
he finally made it. The sophomore then went on to finish fourth
Gilroy – When Gilroy wrestler Nico Naranjo went to the wrestling state championships in March, he had 14 opportunities to successfully weigh in at his 103-pound weight class. After nine tries, or “scale challenges,” he finally made it. The sophomore then went on to finish fourth in state.
But it wasn’t easy. Not only did Naranjo have to maintain that weight from last August, when Gilroy High wrestlers began cutting weight for the season, but after each failed challenge at the state weigh-in, he was forced to try to lose those last few pounds of water weight by any means necessary: running in sweats, taking hot showers and running some more. Gilroy head coach Armando Gonzalez said Naranjo did all this “probably until midnight” on the day of weigh-ins before he finally made weight on his ninth try.
Sound grueling? It is. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. “Making weight” throughout a long wrestling season can be dangerous to the health of wrestlers. Which is why last month, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) joined 17 other state associations in adopting a new wrestling weight management program that is based on body composition testing programs and is a complete makeover of the rules of making weight in high school wrestling.
The new regime
Currently, the CIF enforces what is known as the “50 percent rule” to determine the weight classes of wrestlers. The rule says that each wrestler must make at least half of the season weigh-ins before dual meets and tournaments at the minimum weight he or she will compete in during the state tournament series.
The new weight management program, which has been adopted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), is based on body composition testing programs, much like those of collegiate wrestling.
“Every single year, there’s always an attempt to protect athletes from themselves and coaches, in some cases,” said Central Coast Section (CCS) commissioner Nancy Lazenby-Blaser. “This is the most comprehensive measure.”
The purpose of the new program, which will be followed this season but will not replace the 50 percent rule as the ultimate determiner of who can and can’t wrestle until 2006-2007, is to make sure that athletes are competing at the healthiest weight class for them individually and cutting weight in a healthy – and safe – manner.
Under the new rules, male athletes must maintain 7 percent body fat and females must maintain at least 12 percent. These body fat percentages have been determined by the NFHS to be “healthy” for athletes, as well as by physicians at the American College of Sports Medicine.
Beginning this fall, the CIF will use testing to make sure athletes are at these levels. But before a wrestler’s body composition can be measured, the athlete must pass a urine test that ensures they are properly hydrated at the time of the test.
Each wrestler’s certified minimum wrestling weight is then determined by the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s Optimum Performance Calculator. Once that is determined, the wrestler will have to adhere to a time-sensitive weight loss plan that is supposed to make sure the athlete is cutting weight at a healthy rate.
“A wrestler is given a time frame in which he can lose weight,” Lazenby-Blaser said. “If he loses it before that date, it doesn’t matter. He can’t wrestle until that date.”
Effective or not?
Whether the wrestling community likes the new program – or thinks it is necessary – doesn’t really matter. The CIF didn’t have a choice but to pass the new weight management program, said Lazenby-Blaser.
“Since the National Federation (of High Schools) rules changed, the CIF had to too,” Lazenby-Blaser said. “(The NFHS) has always determined the weigh-in procedure.”
Lazenby-Blaser said there hasn’t been much dissent from CCS wrestling coaches about the program, but that in the Sac-Joaquin Section, it’s another story.
“They’re all up in arms about it,” she said.
On the local level, reactions are mixed.
Gonzalez and Gilroy High assistant wrestling coach Mike Koester said they’ve seen their fair share of dangerously underweight wrestlers competing. They’re just not sure the new program will definitely change that.
“To tell you the truth, it’s too late. It’s a knee-jerk attitude,” Koester said. “I think the only good thing about it is that it gives a baseline (figure for weight). You can use this to tell yourself this is the lowest a kid can go.”
But San Benito High wrestling coach Matt Olejnik thinks the new program is a big improvement on the current 50 percent rule. Olejnik’s grapplers already have an idea of what their ideal competition weights are because for the past seven years, Olejnik has had Hollister personal trainer Mary Margaret Lanning educate his team about nutrition and weight management. She also tests the ‘Baler wrestlers’ body fat percentage three times throughout the season.
“The way they do it now, the 50 percent of weigh-ins is not effective,” Olejnik said.
The coach said because wrestlers tend to start the season heavier, the 50 percent rule puts more pressure on wrestlers to lose weight quickly late in the season and get in by the deadline. He said it’s especially difficult for “seasonal wrestlers” – athletes who play other sports, like football that might require them to weigh more right before wrestling season.
Under the new program, which doesn’t allow a wrestler to compete until he or she has gone through all the testing and has had a minimum wrestling weight established, Olejnik believes “kids will have all season to (lose weight) properly.”
Even so, all parties involved know the program isn’t fool-proof.
Still ways to cheat?
Gonzalez believes that those who want to cheat will still find a way, especially when it comes to the hydration tests. Olejnik agrees.
“With privacy laws, there are still ways of being able to escape and get around (the testing),” he said.
Back when he wrestled, Olejnik said there were wrestlers who would dip their urine sample cups into a toilet bowl to water down their sample and help them pass hydration testing.
Gonzalez and Koester feel much of the accountability for keeping wrestlers healthy should remain with wrestling coaches.
“It’s kind of sad that it has come to this, that this (program) has to be put into place and that coaches can’t be held accountable,” Koester said.
With cheating, you “don’t win in the long haul,” Gonzalez said. “You can’t build a strong program upon that.”
He said that wrestling coaches must follow a code of ethics when it comes to their teams’ weight-cutting and health.
Nevertheless, weight-cutting comes with the wrestling territory. And with it comes the temptation to cheat.
“Wrestlers are a different breed of people. It’s not an easy thing to do,” Gonzalez said. “Weight-cutting is always going to be a part of the sport.”
The new CIF guidelines and their impact
A proposal passed by the California Interscholastic Federation at its May 6 annual meeting puts in place a body composition testing program for high school wrestlers that is intended to determine if they are at a healthy weight for competition. The program, which is mandatory but not binding for the 2005-06 school year but becomes binding in 2006-07, will:
• Set a certified minimum wrestling weight based on 7 percent body fat for males, 12 percent for females
• Establish a schedule of weekly weight loss that remains healthy and safe
• Educate wrestlers, coaches and parents on maintaining a nutritional diet
Testing for body fat percentage via bioelectrical impedance and testing for hydration levels via refractometer analysis of urine will be conducted by certified CIF assessors. Wrestlers will not be allowed to compete until they go through testing and have a certifiable minimum wrestling weight.