Program to guide rapid weight loss for wrestlers

  • By Mike Cane For The Enterprise
  • Wednesday, January 7, 2009 12:12pm

A statewide program that aims to take the guesswork — and dangerous habits — out of the equation for high school wrestlers is working well, local wrestling coaches said.

This is the second season the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which oversees prep sports in the state, has used the Wrestling Weight Management Program. The system is designed to keep wrestlers healthy and prevent dangerous weight loss.

“It is better than what we had beforehand. There wasn’t any oversight,” Snohomish High wrestling coach Rob Zabel said.

The WIAA created the weight management program after the National Federation of State High School Associations in 2006 set standards for prep wrestlers, including:

• body-fat percentage can’t be less than 7 percent for boys and 12 percent for girls

• a wrestler can lose no more than 1.5 percent of his or her weight per week

The changes were sparked, in part, by three college wrestlers who in fall 1997 died from complications caused by rapid weight loss, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations Web site.

Washington’s program is a three-part process that establishes a wrestler’s minimum weight class. Using a hydration (urine) test, a body-fat exam and a weigh-in, trained assessors determine the lowest weight division an athlete is allowed to compete in.

“We’re doing it for the protection of the kids,” said Jim Meyerhoff, WIAA assistant executive director.

This year testing began a week before the season started. Wrestlers must complete the $5 assessment before they can compete.

The process took awhile to get used to and can get pretty hectic, Stanwood High wrestling coach Ray Mather said.

“But once it’s all said and done, it’s awesome,” Mather said.

Before last season wrestlers could have tried to shed an unhealthy amount of weight and compete in a lower division. But under the current system, coaches bring weight-management reports to dual meets and tournaments. The reports, created by certified assessors, have a competitor’s name, approved weight classes and other specific weight-management details.

It provides a clear-cut explanation of what is safe.

“It’s nice that everybody is on the same page and playing by the same rules,” Snohomish’s Zabel said. “Nobody wants anybody to be unhealthy. You’re helping kids make sure that they’re healthy.”

The weight management program worked “almost flawlessly” last season, said the WIAA’s Meyerhoff. About 10,000 wrestlers were assessed from 278 schools. Most of the state’s 175 approved assessors are athletic trainers already employed by the school district, Meyerhoff said. Coaches are not allowed to participate in the assessment.

The first step is the hydration test, followed by weight and body-fat measurements. Athletes who fail the hydration test must stop the assessment and wait 48 hours before being retested.

The hydration check is designed to prevent wrestlers from working out right before testing to qualify for a lower weight class. Coaches encourage athletes to drink lots of water, and to avoid caffeinated drinks and foods high in fat and salt.

Wrestlers can appeal assessment results once. After seeing about 130 appeals last season, Meyerhoff said there have been around 20 appeals so far this winter.

Mike Cane writes for The Herald in Everett.

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