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SportsColumnistsGregg Sarra

Sarra: Keep 96- and 285-pound classes and make them count

ISLIP TERRACE-JANUARY 09, 2010 . During the Rocky

ISLIP TERRACE-JANUARY 09, 2010 . During the Rocky Gilmore Memorial Wrestling Tournament, winner in the 119lb. class finals, Brentwood High School's Alex Gomez (on top) works on his opponent Giovanni Sanchez from Central Islip. The event was held at East Islip High School, 1 Redmen Street,Islip Terrace, NY, on Saturday January 09, 2010. (Photo by Richard Slattery). Photo Credit: Freelance/Photo by Richard Slattery

What should be done with the 96- and 285-pound classes?

Wrestling coaches throughout the state are being asked to vote on their future. Do they want to continue to have wrestlers compete at 96 pounds as a mandatory weight class or an optional one in dual meets or do they want to eliminate the class? And do they want to make the 285-pound class mandatory or optional in dual meets?

The answers should be simple. Keep both weight classes and make them count in dual meets and tournaments. Eliminating the 96-pound class is not in the best interests of the sport. Using the 96-pound class as an optional weight class is a copout.

This is a no-brainer. Keeping the two weights allows more kids to compete in the wrestling room and stay off the streets. Anytime you can put our children in a learning environment that demands discipline is a home run.

Currently, coaches can opt to count the 96- and 285-pound classes in the team scoring in dual meets. That's ridiculous. No one ever counts these weights if it puts his team at a disadvantage. So those wrestlers are really not a part of the starting lineup until the league tournaments.

"Most schools have to go through selective classification to fill their rosters in the lower weight classes," Brentwood coach Ralph Napolitano said. "We bring up seventh- and eighth-graders to the varsity wrestling team to fill our lineup. It has its pros and cons. I voted to make 285 mandatory and to keep 96 optional."

When a student-athlete can pass the selective classification test, he or she can compete at the high school level. Rarely does a seventh- or eighth-grader at 13 and 14 years old move up to the high school and successfully compete against 17- and 18-year-olds. The weight might be the same, but the muscle and bone structure is very different.

"The younger wrestlers are forced into an extremely competitive situation and don't get a chance to mature at the junior high level,'' Napolitano said. "And sometimes it backfires and they lose a lot. And on the flip side, there can be a benefit to working out with the more experienced wrestlers and they improve more quickly. It's a difficult weight class to get a grip on."

Napolitano, like most coaches, is torn on the 96-pound issue. There is no 96-pound class in the national high school wrestling championships. So eliminating the class is consistent with what the rest of the country is doing. But it would be a crime if the weight class were dropped.

The 285-pound class is more clear-cut. There is a 285-pound national title. And every state uses the weight class. The state's wrestling committee added the 285-pound class in 1997 when it restructured the sport. But it didn't make the weight class mandatory in dual meets. Why?

"Some schools can't find kids to wrestle in that weight class," Napolitano said. "That's when you need to have a relationship with the football coach and get some of those guys in the room."

That would reduce specialization in high school sports, where athletes train for one sport year round.

So if we crown 96- and 285-pound state champions in February, why don't the classes officially count throughout the dual meet season? It makes no sense. If those boys matter at season's end - why don't they matter during the season?

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