Take it outside. That’s what wrestling, boxing and martial arts are doing.
Stymied by restrictions on indoor sports and wanting to return to play, many combat sports organizations are moving their practices, workouts and yes, their tournaments to the outdoors. And while it may be the norm in other countries, particularly at ethnic heritage festivals, hosting youth wrestling outside in the U.S. is unexpected.
Athletic Business first noted the phenomenon on the high school wrestling circuit and added that because in New Jersey, wrestling had been moved from winter to spring, the weather was conducive to hosting competitions outside.
The outdoor match, held between two girls’ wrestling teams, was believed to be the first in school history. Another article, in The Press of Atlantic City, quoted Lower Cape May Regional coach Billy Damiana, who noted that wrestling was “the last of the gladiator sports.” The history teacher noted that in Ancient Rome, gladiators did not wrestle inside but rather outdoors.
“We are trying to get in as many matches as we are allowed,” Damiana said. “If we have to go outside, we will go outside. That is not a big deal for us. Our mentality is going to be anybody, any place, anywhere.”
But New Jersey wasn’t alone. Massachusetts school administrators had been considering a similar move to spring wrestling, as far back as November 2020. Overcoming potential conflicts with spring football, however, was a concern, since a sizeable percentage of students did participate in both sports.
In Mesa, Arizona, mats were spread over soccer fields so that wrestlers could compete. And according to the girls’ wrestling coach, having outdoor tournaments can do the sport nothing but good.
“…Get the advertisement out there that girls are wrestling, its something they do and they're here to stay,” she notes.
Of course, there are problems, as Massachusetts high school coach Gary Rabinovitz found, when Whitman-Hanson’s team played their first indoor tournament.
"The problem is the rubber on the mats,” he told The Patriot Ledger. “If you get any dew at all, forget it. You're sliding all over the place. There's more (potential for) injury if you don't have good footing. So weather would be a huge part of it. The weather would really have to be right. It's going to be interesting, to say the least."
Other changes the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association outlined return-to-competition protocol but narrowly defined the parameters for wrestling. There could be no quad meets as competition will be limited to dual meets or tri-meets, provided the tri-meet is staged more like back-to-back dual meets with not every team on site at the same time. The committee also recommends that schools prioritize league/district schedules.
Other combat sports have already hit the great outdoors. In Philadelphia, the Philly Voice noted, state officials last summer cleared a number of athletic activities deemed high-risk for COVID-19 transmission, including martial arts, to resume outdoor workouts and competitions.
New Jersey also approved not just outdoor (and in some cases, indoor) practices and competitions in rugby, boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo and wrestling (as well as pairs figure skating, football, group dance and group cheer), it also approved outdoor interstate competitions in all those sports.
Other states are pushing for the ability to play outdoors. In California, the Orange County Register notes that volleyball and basketball, as indoor sports, are currently off-limits. Coaches are working to have those sports brought outside as well.
Sage Hill High, for one, is ready to make the leap. It already has an outdoor court made of modular interlocking toles that create a resilient sport surface.
“It’s tough to dive on, so it might not be great for volleyball,” said Sage Hill athletic director Megan Cid. “But it’s great for basketball.”
Sage Hill basketball coach Billy Conlon agreed that the modular court is fine for basketball.
“The traction is very much up to the standard you’d want for any outdoor court,” Conlon said. “It’s got a great bounce to it. It’s not as good as wood, but it feels similar to it when you’re out there on the court playing.”
And anything, he adds, feels better than not playing at all.