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‘I still can’t believe it was called’: Hershey scores controversial wrestling win over Red Land

Listen – I love rules. In fact, my occupation, the one that actually pays the bills, is based on the enforcement of rules that our society has in place. As a Police Officer – I can utilize what is called discretion.

Police officers are given the right and opportunity to act according to their discretion in stopping people, arresting them, and using force to bring about an arrest. Discretion means the power and ability to make decisions.

Referees in wrestling should have similar discretion when enforcing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Wrestling Rule Book – “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” is defined as…

UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT RULE (7-4-2) ARTICLE. 2 . . .

Unsportsmanlike conduct involves physical or nonphysical acts and they can occur before, during, or after a match.

It includes, but is not limited to, such acts as failure to comply with the direction of the referee, pushing, shoving, swearing, taunting, intimidation, baiting an opponent, throwing ear guards or any other equipment, spitting and the clearing of the nasal passage in other than the proper receptacle, repeatedly dropping to one knee or one hand to break locked hands, indicating displeasure with a call, failure to keep shoulder straps up while on the mat, and failure to comply with the end-of-match procedure.

Continuing acts of unsportsmanlike conduct or any unsportsmanlike conduct may be construed as flagrant misconduct.

Looking at this through the lens of discretion – it seems pretty obvious when unsportsmanlike conduct should be called. The problem is – I have been mat side for over 200 matches this season alone – and at least a dozen times I have witnessed first hand a wrestler push, taunt, throw head gear, and show displeasure with a call and not get hit with unsportsmanlike conduct. The call is made inconsistently. I would say in maybe half of those incidents, the penalty was warranted. The other half – the ref did the right thing by not calling the penalty. I’ve seen wrestlers who win celebrate on the mat before shaking their opponents hand and I’ve seen losing wrestlers throw their head gears to their coaches or a teammate. Wrestling is wrestling and if you want it to be rainbows and unicorns all the time – join the chess team (no offense Max Murin).  

I don’t know if back in the day wrestlers would rip off their singlets before shaking hands with their opponents, like Hulk Hogan shredding a yellow WrestleMania shirt, but to call unstrapping your singlet while walking off the mat unsportsmanlike conduct is silly, if not absurd. Then again, it is 2019, so by exposing your chest it might offend someone within eye sight. The term “Unsportsmanlike” in itself offends me. Can you not call the penalty on female wrestlers – or is that in a different subsection?

The same people who will say “yeah but it’s in the rule book” and “rules are rules, if you don’t like them, change them” are the same people who, when I give them a speeding ticket for doing 36 MPH in a 35 MPH zone they complain that, “it’s not fair,” “go catch some real criminals” and “it was only 1 MPH over the speed limit Officer.” Hey, rules are rules pal, contact your local representative to get the speed limit increased.

Bottom line is, as a referee, you should know what unsportsmanlike conduct looks like. It’s the wrestler who is face smooshing their opponent and throwing cross faces that look more like Mike Tyson throwing a right hook. They may even try to throw an actual punch or better yet give the ref the middle finger!  What unsportsmanlike conduct is not would be a wrestler who, after respectfully shaking hands with their opponent, walks off the mat and, before both feet are completely off the mat area, begins to undo the singlet straps from their shoulders. 

I think we need instant replay to see if a wrestler had both feet in bounds when the strap was successfully pulled down. What if a wrestler goes Andre The Giant style and only has one strap up when exiting the mat area – is it half a team point? I have interviewed hundreds of wrestlers after winning matches where they had their straps down inside a gym or arena, in front of fans but off the mat, and never got any complaints from spectators or referees. This makes a strong case for why more teams should move to the compression shirt and shorts to replace the singlet so this silly rule can’t be called.

This isn’t nearly as bad as the now infamous cutting off the dreads incident in New Jersey but it doesn’t help the image of Wrestling.

And for the record – I respect both head coaches a ton. Brian Baglio of Red Land is a guy I watched when I was a young wrestler myself. Dee Evans of Hershey got screwed out of a job in Susquehanna Township and instead of letting that beat him down, he has continued to inspire young wrestlers with his passion for our Sport.

Many will disagree with my opinion – and that’s fine. Just don’t be surprised if you get a speeding ticket while driving through Pittsburgh in the near future. Just kidding. But seriously, slow down.