Pinning Down COVID-19

A look into the wrestling community and how COVID- 19 has affected it

Pinning+Down+COVID-19

Helen Oriatti-Burns and Mackenzie Wren

Beads of sweat rolled off his forehead as Cameron Tu ’21 walked away from the practice mat  in the Stevenson wrestling room last winter. Gathering his belongings, he headed to the locker room, which was bustling with athletes after most winter sports had ended for the night. 

Today, however, the locker room remains vacant as the COVID-19 pandemic is at its peak. 

Due to the pandemic, on October 28 the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors developed guidance for winter sports, including wrestling. The Board decided to move the wrestling season to the summer — April 19 to June 26 —because of the high contact that occurs in the sport.

While the season does have a projected start and end date, Tu is not completely optimistic or in support of the wrestling season starting with the way COVID-19 is right now. 

“The sport of wrestling, in my opinion, is the most contact sport Stevenson has to offer, and it’s the last sport to come up in my mind as a possibility to continue during the pandemic,” Tu said. “It will certainly be unwise and selfish for the sport of wrestling to continue until we’ve found a vaccine.”

Although wrestling is considered a high-risk sport due to its amount of physical contact, wrestlers’ opinions remain divided on whether the change was necessary. Some dismiss the notion that wrestling is more dangerous for wrestlers’ health than other sports. 

“Let the season resume the way it has in the past, but with slight precautions such as temp [temperature] checks and daily mat sanitization,” varsity wrestler Arad Peregoudov ’21 said. “As of right now, I’m yet to hear a story or a study in which wrestling has been shown to contribute to mass COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Under normal circumstances, wrestlers train for months, competing in regional and divisional tournaments with a goal of making it to the IHSA State tournament. As a result of the pandemic, head wrestling coach Shane Cook and his colleagues had to determine creative ways of working out as a team.

“Now, not being able to be in the weight room together, we’ve had to make the most of a tough situation and just do mostly body-weight training exercises,” Cook said. “We’re doing our absolute best to be able to make gains just with body weight.”

The wrestling community at Stevenson prides itself on being close-knit. Wrestlers are encouraged to uplift each other and strive for team and individual success. However, with contact days for wrestling canceled until April, some wrestlers believe that the bonds among all athletic teams are drifting apart. 

“In my opinion, the SHS sports community is experiencing a noticeable separation because it seems as if everyone is off doing their own thing,” Peregoudov said.

Cook is supportive of the IHSA’s decision, but recognizes the impact it has on his athletes. He remains hopeful that the team will emerge stronger with their motto of “Always Together,” despite the challenges to team bonding due to not having contact days.

“We haven’t been able to do the things together that we always have,” Cook said. “Once we get through this and we’re able to come back together, that motto [Always Together] that we live by — it’s going to be more a part of us than it ever has been.” 

According to Cook, being a part of the wrestling team takes an abundance of responsibility, requiring and boosting a level of mental stamina. The pandemic has seen an increase in poor mental health, and playing a team sport has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.

“The mental exertion I experienced from wrestling has transformed me to become more resilient to obstacles that try to break my ambitions and my drive to succeed,” Tu said.

Training almost the whole year, competing often, and accepting individual ownership while working on a team — wrestling, according to Cook, is a large commitment. Being a part of the ‘family’ provides constant opportunities for growth and maturity for wrestlers like Tu.

With the new pandemic guidelines given by Governor Pritzker, all winter sports are currently suspended. However, the lessons that Tu learned from wrestling carry on outside the mat.

“Wrestling has transformed me from a child into a responsible adult, and throughout the wisdom and experience I learned from wrestling, I learned to always embrace the pain, endure it, and learn to appreciate it,” Tu said.