HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y. – Varsity wrestling coaches in the area have mixed feelings regarding recent changes to weight classes by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

The number of weight classes has decreased from 15 to 13, with the most glaring difference being the 99-pound division has been eliminated. The new weight classes are: 102, 110, 118, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 172, 189, 215 and 285. This change was approved at a July 29 meeting and there will be a two-year pilot program starting with the 2020-2021 season.

A main reason for the change is due to concern over the amount of forfeits in dual meets during recent years.

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Somers/North Salem coach Ron DiSanto thinks the reduction of weight classes will even the playing field between schools and programs of different sizes. He added that the change will help the Tuskers because they are one of the smaller teams and have lost dual meets due to forfeits.

“We have had many instances when we outwrestled our opponents in dual meets by winning the majority of individual matches wrestled, but we still lost as a team because of the points given up due to forfeits,” DiSanto said. “That was very frustrating and difficult on team morale. This will be a pick-me-up for our program and create excitement. Exciting dual meets are important for the growth of wrestling. They promote the importance of a well-balanced team. In Somers, specifically, with so much school spirit, I think we can turn our dual meets into exciting events and fill up the bleachers.”

DiSanto said that “no one enjoys forfeits,” so eliminating two of the weight classes will help cut down on them.

“Most of the kids who receive the win by forfeit would rather earn it by actually wrestling,” he said. “They deserve to wrestle after their hard work in practice and sacrifices making weight.  Sure, they will take the win, but there is so much build up, often traveling (to meets) thinking they will be wrestling, but ending up disappointed receiving a forfeit and not wrestling.”

With the elimination of the 99-pound division, DiSanto still thinks the strong young wrestlers will still find their way into the 102-pound division or higher classes.

“Some freshmen, who are not ready for varsity, end up being forced into the lineup at 99,” DiSanto said. “Those freshman not ready and the seventh-and eighth-graders who are skilled but too small to qualify for the minimum, will certainly benefit from the development on junior varsity or modified.”

He added that New York State was the only state in the country with a 99-pound weight class. “It will be an adjustment, but we’ll get used to it,” he said.

Veteran John Jay-Cross River coach Bill Swertfager said he is adamantly against the adjustment to the weight classes.

“This sport is one of the few where a student, smaller in stature, can compete on an equal playing field,” he said. “They have now taken that away. Even when we could not fill the lighter weight classes, I still was in favor of it. The more participants and opportunities for our sport, the better, as far as I am concerned.”

Swertfager thinks it will hurt his team specifically.

“We usually have a large group on our team, 30-40 wrestlers and can always fill the weight classes,” Swertfager said. “Last year alone I had three 99-pounders on the roster. Instead of trying to help the smaller squads get more wrestlers on their team, we have hurt the larger teams and probably have hurt overall participation numbers for our great sport.”

Swertfager added that with the change to the minimum weight requirements for the lightest weight classes, it won’t make sense to bring up middle schoolers if they can’t hit the minimum to participate.

Yorktown wrestling coach Eric Fama said he’s also not a fan of eliminating weight classes.

“This means that there will be two kids who will lose out on the opportunity to gain varsity experience this year,” Fama said. “I have always felt the more kids that you can get to compete the better it will be for the kids and the sport.”

Fama said he isn’t sure how the changes will directly impact the Huskers yet.

“It will depend on what weights our kids fall into, but we did have six kids at either 99 and 106 pounds last year,” he said. “That means they will all be trying to fight for one or two spots, which could cause kids to become frustrated or quit. For the future, it will certainly hurt because we have a very large youth program and are constantly bringing up eighth-graders to get experience which has led to a lot of success later on in their careers.”

Fama thinks it could also negatively affect Section 1’s success at the state tournament, being they have performed well in the 99-pound division in recent years.

“In the past seven to eight years we have done really well as a section in that weight class in large school (division) with multiple state placers just about every year and a state champ last year.”

Lakeland/Panas coach Dave Bergen had a similar take as Fama, and said he is not in favor of the change.

“Reducing weight classes reduces opportunities for participation,” Bergen said. “The more kids we have in our lineup the more invested the kids will be in the team. No kid wants to train and not have an opportunity to compete. We have been pretty lucky about being able to fill all our weight classes. It will definitely leave a few kids sitting on the bench, which is tough.”

Bergen has tried to avoid pulling up middle schoolers to varsity to fill the lower weight classes.

“I preferred to let them stay with kids their own age,” he said. “I have been lucky to find smaller ninth graders to fill spots. Competing at the lower weights is a great opportunity for them, especially if they are new to the sport.”

Bergen doesn’t think forfeits have a significant impact on the outcome of a dual meet. And he believes athletes who win by forfeit still have a sense of accomplishment being they made weight and helped contribute to earning the team points.

For him, it simply comes down to the fact that more weight classes means more opportunities and spots to compete.

“Basically, I think cutting out weight classes is a bad idea,” Bergen said. “Sure, there were some forfeits, but those weight classes were varsity spots for kids to fill. The more kids we have competing the better it is for the sport as a whole. Kids will not come out or stay out for teams if there is no spot for them to compete.”