With A Heavy Heart


By Mark R. McLaughlin, MD, FACS, FAANS

To The Youth Wrestling Community

Wrestlers are natural born risk takers. It’s in our blood.

We’ll try a headlock at the end of a match, shoot for a takedown when the odds are unlikely to score, and go for the pin despite a sure win with a big lead. In many aspects of life and sports, risk-taking is a useful and rewarding endeavor. But not when it comes to risking someone’s life.

Last week I met with our non-profit organization, Trenton Youth Wrestling, to determine our stance on resuming normal activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We considered many factors including scientific facts, demographics of our inner city wrestlers and families, logistics of maintaining compliance with state regulations, legal concerns about potential violations of compliance, and most importantly, the overall social and moral question: What is the most responsible choice to make?

Here are the undeniable facts that our board considered when making our decision:

  • In the U.S., eight out of 10 coronavirus deaths have been in the 65 and older population, with the risks rising with each decade.
  • The virus is highly contagious even in its pre-symptomatic stage.
  • Wrestling inherently involves close contact between competitors. A pre-symptomatic or minimally symptomatic wrestler who has passed the screening questions and temperature check would surely transmit the virus to their competitor who in turn could pass it on to partners, team, coaches, and family. It’s clear that the potential for a superspreader event is high in this common scenario.
  • Following CDC guidelines makes wrestling itself nearly impossible given the extremely close proximity of wrestlers, risking their health and the likelihood of passing the virus to older adults.
  • The COVID-19 death rate for Black Americans is almost twice that for whites.

I believe the No. 1 responsibility of a youth coach is to teach by example. Based on my 20-year experience as a youth wrestling coach and as a physician, it is my opinion that holding a youth wrestling practice or tournament is not prudent during this pandemic.

Having practices and matches sends the wrong message to our children and puts our elderly wrestling fans and caregivers at risk. Coaches and parents need to discuss this with young wrestlers to help them understand the potential consequences of their choices, including lasting health issues and possibly death. That is why we believe canceling the youth season is the only responsible choice.

Is there collateral damage in NOT having a season?  Yes, but we can mitigate that loss through virtual teaching and training.  We can create a closer internet/virtual connection with our wrestlers.  Now we have the privilege of entering their homes, and in doing so perhaps we can better influence their diet, choices of reading and screen time and ultimately develop a closer relationship with our wrestlers and their families.

Though nothing can substitute for the physical grind of an in-person practice, nothing can undo the damage to a child (and a beloved relative) due to the possibility that through wrestling the virus was transmitted  to a family member or to a teammate who then saw a loved one get extremely ill or die.

We at Trenton Youth Wrestling are choosing to eliminate all physical practices this season and teach virtually.  Please consider our position when you make your choice.

From Coach Mark
Co-Founder of Trenton Youth Wrestling

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