KSU's Faulstick trying to make wrestling safer

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

After a disastrous 1997-98 season, the sport of college wrestling found itself at a crossroads. Continuing down the chosen path was no longer an option, after three student-athletes died within a two-month span due to complications resulting from overzealous attempts to cut weight. Wrestling would finally have to change its course immediately, or ultimately face the most bitter consequences. Termination. "After last year, wrestling was in a glass house," said Kent State head athletic trainer John Faulstick. "Changes had to be made, or I truly believe it would have no longer been an NCAA-sponsored sport. The NCAA finally made sure that coaches understood the seriousness of the matter." The NCAA hammered its point home by forming a Wrestling Rules Committee and ushering in a slew of major changes, most of which have now taken effect for the first time as the heart of the 1998-99 season quickly approaches. In April, the committee "formulated recommendations to change rules regarding weight-loss and weigh-ins to increase the safe participation of student-athletes in the sport of wrestling, in response to the deaths of three student-athletes in November and December of 1997," according to an NCAA press release. "The main goal is to have wrestlers competing at their natural weight by letting their natural build dictate the weight they wrestle at," said Faulstick. "Limits have been set for the amount of weight that can be cut while maintaining hydration at all times. They just want healthy wrestlers competing at their natural weights." Several new rules were implemented this year to solve problems associated with weight cutting. Back in the first week of October, an initial weight assessment using body weight, body fat and gravity of urine (to determine level of hydration at the time of the weighing) was conducted to establish a minimum weight. Each wrestler was then given until the first week of December to determine the weight he will be required to wrestle at for the remainder of the 1998-99 season, but no more than 1.5 percent of his body weight could be lost per week and the final weight could not fall below the calculated minimum weight. The weight certification process was implemented to keep wrestlers from significantly dropping weight in order to compete at a smaller weight class toward the end of the year. Weigh-ins for dual meets are now held one hour prior to the start of the first match, and a random draw is held to determine which weight class will start each dual. Matches then continue in the traditional order from that starting point. This rule was established to reduce the incentive to lose weight prior to a dual match by not giving a wrestler ample time to recover after dropping excessive weight before his match. Tournament weigh-ins have also changed. In the past, wrestlers have only been weighed once before tournaments. Wrestlers could cut significant weight to qualify at a desired lower weight class, then gain weight for the remainder of the tournament without penalty while competing in that same class. Now, weigh-ins are held two hours before the start of the first match on the first day and one hour before the first match on subsequent days. The weight classes themselves have been changed, with the lowest class increased to 125 pounds and the highest class moved up to 285. Artificial devices to lose weight have also been banned, the temperature in wrestling rooms may no longer exceed 75 degrees, and all wrestling coaches are required to be certified in CPR. Needless to say, the NCAA tried its best to cover all the bases. "As much weight as I cut my first few years of college, I can say from experience that something needed to be done," said Steve Daugherty, currently a fifth-year senior team captain at Kent who still holds the record for career victories at Ravenna High School with 118. "It's been a problem for years, but nothing had been done because people in wrestling are set in their ways. They don't like change." Indeed, these massive changes were not exactly welcomed with open arms by the majority of wrestling coaches. "Athletes across the board were more excited about the changes than coaches," said Faulstick. "Coaches were frustrated, because the weight class issue was removed from their control and put in the hands of medical people." Also, since the weight certification process is conducted primarily by each individual school's own medical staff, coaches worried that some programs would strictly abide by the rules while others would bend them. "Anytime you have rule changes, there's an adjustment period," said Faulstick, one of two trainers assigned to field questions about the weight certification process from coaches and trainers across the nation. "There was a lot of confusion about the process early on. But once our people here understood the hydration part of the process, things went pretty well." Kent coach Frank Romano had his share of concerns about the weight certification process when it was first revealed, but was satisfied with the outcome afterward. "You're not sure how things are going to go at first, but now that we've been through it I'm very pleased," said Romano. "Everybody passed, we're solid at every weight class and most guys were certified at the weight they wanted. John really put a lot of time and effort into this, and I can't say enough about the job he and his staff did." Faulstick himself wondered how the athletes would accept the changes. "I won't say that everyone is 100 percent pleased, but the athletes are the ones I was most concerned with. And I haven't heard any of them say a negative thing yet," he said. "They say it's nice to not have to worry constantly about how low you can go." "I haven't heard anyone say they didn't like the changes that have been made," Daugherty agreed. "It's made wrestling a lot more enjoyable." So the changes have been supported for the most part by all parties involved thus far. But has the NCAA actually accomplished its desired goals? "People are still going to cut weight," said Daugherty. "There will always be isolated cases. But it won't be anywhere near as extreme as it has been." "You can't control people 24 hours a day," said Faulstick. "Things will never be perfect. But from a medical standpoint we're happy, because it's a step in the right direction. It's a start, but it's not enough. "My personal problem is that athletes still put on and take off more weight than they should throughout the year, which is never healthy. They need to stay physically active in the offseason so they stay close to an average weight. There's also speculation that we could go to mat-side weigh-ins as soon as next year. We know more changes will be made." These changes and the additional moves that are sure to come have taken the sport of wrestling in a vastly different direction. And so far, it seems to be the right one. "I'm not aware of any major medical problems that have resulted from wrestling so far this year," said Faulstick. "And if something had happened you know, after all that's taken place in the last year, that it would be big news."

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