The Hatboro-Horsham School Board voted to suspend the high school wrestling program for the 2020-21 season.
The vote happened at a school board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 2, in response to a recommendation from district superintendent Dr. Scott Eveslage and athletic director Lou James, who told the board at that meeting that after consulting with medical professionals, they did not feel it was safe to conduct the program this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The recommendations that have been from our medical professionals regarding wrestling are, quite honestly, just not practical recommendations for how wrestling could continue," Eveslage said.
James noted that wrestling's environment differs from that of other interscholastic sports.
"Wrestling is a true skin-on-skin sport," he said. "It puts our kids in a position that no other sport has done to this point. We don't know what's going on with the uptake and what's going on in our community."
As of Monday, Bucks County had over 21,146 cases since March, up nearly 1,000 cases since Friday and jumping from 5,479 cases since Nov. 23.
Montgomery County is seeing a similar trend as Bucks County for both new cases and patients hospitalized.
About 25,277 people have contracted COVID-19 since March, a spike of almost 5,100 people since Nov. 23 and almost 1,000 people since Friday.
Wrestling is the only winter sport at Hatboro-Horsham to be shut down for the season. Eveslage said other sports were going to play a league-only schedule beginning the week of Jan. 11.
The Suburban One League voted to approve the start of non-league competition on Dec. 22, with league competition beginning on Jan. 11.
Hatboro-Horsham wrestling coach Trent Mongillo said he did not learn until shortly before the meeting that the possible suspension of the program was on the agenda. He spoke during the public comment portion of the Dec. 2 meeting and advocated that the 2020-21 season go forward.
"We're fully prepared to practice and to participate in the wrestling season," he told the board. "I have a plan laid out of putting the kids in pods, identifying their practice partner for the entirety of the year, (and) putting them into groups of no more than four, which is recommended by the PIAA."
Mongillo's proposed protocols covered scenarios likely to occur prior to each day's practice, during each day's practice, and during dual meets. They included social distancing on the bench during matches, wrestlers wearing masks except for when they were actually wrestling, and using two mats during dual meets to allow wrestling to occur on one while the other was being disinfected.
He said that wrestling coaches from throughout District One had shared ideas to create procedures that would allow for the safe conduct of the sport.
The wrestling issue was not on the agenda at the board's meeting on Dec. 7. But three emails were read into the record during the public comment portion of the meeting.
One was from former Hatboro-Horsham wrestling coach Glen Kaiser, who asked the board to reconsider its decision.
"Having coached high-school wrestling for 26 years in the Suburban One League, 18 of them at Hatboro-Horsham, I have seen many infectious conditions, and all conditions have been kept in check with proper safety procedures," Kaiser wrote in the email. "Wrestling already has extensive mat-cleaning procedures and personal hygiene policies in place and additional measures would be added to limit exposure to COVID."
Bristol also won't field wrestling team
Hatboro-Horsham is not the only area high school to suspend its wrestling program for the 2020-21 season. Bristol athletic director Mike Lalli said the Warriors would not field a team this winter, in part because of COVID-19 and in part because of logistics.
Faith Christian is the only other Bicentennial Athletic League school that has a wrestling team, and the pandemic has created scheduling issues.
"Our traditional tournaments are being cancelled," Lalli said in an e-mail. "Opponents we normally compete against have decided to have in-league only matches. Schools our size who wrestle are located outside District One."
Lalli indicated the nature of wrestling put the sport in the high-risk category.
"So basically it comes down the high risk of the sport and lack of opponents," he said.