High school wrestlers face extra challenges during holidays

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 6:00 p.m.

High school wrestlers face many challenges during the season, but holiday temptation can make life especially difficult.

“As a varsity wrestler, you don't get the luxuries that other kids have during the holiday season,” Southmoreland coach Ryan Shaw said. “These kids have to sacrifice.”

In a sport in which an athlete's weight is so important, wrestlers must guard against pitfalls such as over-indulgence on holiday food and drinks.

“It takes a lot of self-discipline on the wrestlers' part,” Mt. Pleasant coach Mike Long said. “They have to be disciplined in order to manage their weight.

That means eating the proper food and nutrition.”

According to Long, it's important for coaches to emphasize discipline and sacrifice during this time of year.

But ultimately, the responsibility falls on the wrestlers.

“The big thing is trust,” Long said. “The kids I have, have been wrestling their whole lives, so I know they are disciplined and can manage their weight. They don't want to disappoint their teammates or their coaches, and they know where they have to be weight-wise.”

The PIAA gives a 2-pound weight allowance on Christmas, but that is not a license for wrestlers to pack on weight freely during the holiday season.

“It's a double-edged sword,” Shaw said, noting that it gives wrestlers an opportunity to enjoy holiday foods without penalty. But it can also be used as a reason to overindulge, which could lead to problems making weight in future matches. The two-pound allowance also allows wrestlers flexibility to move into weight classes in which they would not normally compete. This becomes an issue during holiday tournaments.

Teams such as Connellsville often try to compete in some of the biggest tournaments in the country during the holidays. The Falcons are regulars in the Beast of the East Tournament the weekend before Christmas and the Powerade Tournament the weekend after Christmas. Southmoreland and Mt. Pleasant compete in the Southmoreland Holiday Tournament, which also brings in top-notch athletes.

“Christmas and New Year's are always a tough time, but it's a balancing act,” Connellsville coach Tommy Dolde said.

Dolde also noted the sacrifices wrestlers make during the holidays, not only in terms of their diet, but also in terms of time spent with family and friends.

“The biggest thing is sacrifice,” Dolde said. “They sacrifice that big holiday meal. They get up Christmas morning, spend time with their families, but then go on a run while everyone else is at home. They sacrifice pop and desserts, and that's what they have to do during Christmas time.”

Of course, the coaches realize that the holidays are meant for enjoyment, so expecting a young athlete to forgo fun things associated with this time of year is not completely realistic.

“We tell them that moderation is key,” Dolde said. “Balance everything you eat with an exercise plan.”

Time spent away from home also is something teams try to deal with around the holidays.

“Do we try to find ways to get them out of the gym early to be with their families? Absolutely,” Shaw said, noting that practice sessions are often set up at a quicker pace so less time is spent working out and more time can be spent with loved ones.

“When it comes to the holidays, we try to get them out fast,” Dolde said. “We do power hours (a one-hour workout) because it's the holidays, and family comes first.”

Of course, the wrestlers know the importance of maintaining their focus during this time of year. And for most, it's a challenge they are more than willing to accept.

“You just have to work harder to make weight,” Mt. Pleasant wrestler Ethan Charlesworth said. “It's hard, but I've gotten used to it.”

Southmoreland wrestler Sean Suter noted that the holidays are a time to be extra vigilant, not a time to slack off.

“It's pretty hard to not eat too much,” Suter said. “But you just have to work it off in the room. We just work hard through the holidays and just keep at it.”

Connellsville wrestler Gunnar Lynch competed at heavyweight last season, but he dropped 45 pounds and is competing at 220 this season. He knows what it takes to be disciplined in terms of dropping and maintaining weight. He also knows it's important to have a plan through the holiday season.

“When we go in to work out, we know what we have to do,” Lynch said. “Christmas time can be tough. It's good to spend time with family, but we make sure we get our work done. When it's done, then we have time to relax.”

One of the things coaches admire about their wrestlers is their commitment to the sport, especially during the holiday season.

“These kids are very dedicated,” Dolde said. “They realize that if they want to win, they have to get the workouts in.”

That's true, even during the holiday season.

Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. Reach him at jblack@tribweb.com.

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