The changes are made, so there’s not much left to do but cope. But plenty of high school wrestling coaches around the state want to make something clear: They’re not happy about this.

The changes are made, so there’s not much left to do but cope. But plenty of high school wrestling coaches around the state want to make something clear: They’re not happy about this.

In April, the National Federation of State High School Associations Wrestling Rules Committee announced a dramatic upward shift to the setup of its wrestling weight classes at the high school level. The NFHS Board of Directors called the change the “most significant changes” to high school wrestling weight divisions in 23 years.

Ten of the weight slots changed, starting with the 103-pound class moving to 106. Three middle-weight classes – 145, 152 and 160 – and the largest bracket (285) were unchanged. Essentially, the move bunches the upper weights, which opens more opportunities for wrestlers weighing between 170-285.

The problem, many area coaches say, is their programs typically draw larger numbers in the lower classes.

“That’s what makes wrestling so special is you’ve got little guys and you’ve got big guys,” Blue Springs South coach Doug Black said. “And I think this kind of hurts the little guys to bump up the weight class.”

The uptick might not seem major, but its impact is tangible. Earlier this month, Black wrestled Christian Findley – who Black said weighs “96 pounds soaking wet” – at 106 in a dual against Raytown South. That three-pound difference can be critical, Black said.

“It takes away leverage,” Black said. “The upper-echelon kids, it doesn’t hurt as much. But it definitely hurts the little guys.”

The change was made in response to a three- to four-year process in which data was analyzed from the National Wrestling Coaches Association Optimal Performance Calculator. The rules committee examined nearly 200,000 wrestlers from across the country with the goal to create weight classes that would spread seven percent of wrestlers into each weight class.

 But Black and others expressed confusion over how those numbers were gathered. Blue Springs coach Mike Hagerty attended a national coaches meeting in North Dakota this summer, and he said he heard from several individuals who conducted contradictory studies.

Hagerty also added that a move as substantial as this one – justified or not – is bound to upset a host of coaches.  

“People believe they’re helping the sport in general,” said Hagerty, who added that he’s mostly neutral on the topic. “It’s not about any one particular team or specific needs. It’s about what they see as the benefit for the whole.”

The consensus in Missouri is resounding, though. Hagerty estimated that the number of coaches he’s talked to who are against the shift outnumber those in favor of it by as much as 10 to 1.
But coaches across the country voted on three options, and this is the one that won out.

“But I think if you voted today,” Hagerty said, “if you actually put it on a ballot, coaches would say across the board they don’t like it.”

St. Mary’s coach Jason Fenstermaker is one coach who voted for the move, although he said he did so because last season his squad was heavy on light-weight wrestlers, which isn’t the case this year.

Like Hagerty, Fenstermaker expressed neutrality on the issue while also acknowledging its inherent flaws. Still, Fenstermaker said, something needed to be done.

“There’s such big discrepancies up in the upper weights,” Fenstermaker said. “It used to be, a kid can just cut weight because he’s fat. Well, that has nothing to do with it anymore. There’s a lot more muscular kids these days. ... I completely understand the need for an upper weight. I just think it hurts taking away from the lower weights.”

There is a chance that the move won’t be permanent. Hagerty said a state could elect to craft its own slate of weight classes, although it could then face sanctions from NFHS. Such a move would also be difficult since many high schools wrestle teams across state boundaries. It would likely take a cluster of states coming together to agree on weight classes separate from the NFHS to make this a viable option.

More realistically, coaches will just have to adjust and move on.

“You have to adapt to changes no matter what,” Fort Osage coach Robert Caton said. “Wrestling is an evolving sport that constantly changes so we just have to adapt to those changes. That’s what’s so exciting about the sport.”