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The weighting is the hardest part
Clayton Hudiburg remembers hearing the news.
After graduating from South Kitsap in 1996, he went on to wrestle at Pacific Lutheran University. On Dec. 9, 1997, University of Michigan wrestler Jeff Reese collapsed and later died after a severe weight-loss program. He was the third collegiate wrestler in six weeks to die after undergoing a rapid weight-reduction regime.
Its scary, said Hudiburg, the son of longtime South wrestling coach Ron Hudiburg. You heard what happened and they died doing the same things I was doing. You dont think what youre doing is that bad because its just a temporary state.
With those deaths serving as the backdrop, the National Federation of State High School Associations passed a rule that establishes a wrestlers minimum weight class based on body-fat percentage: 7 percent for boys and 12 percent for girls, according to Jim Meyerhoff, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
It just gives a healthy standard for the age range of under 18 years of age where they probably should be on body fat, said Patrick Olsen, Souths athletic trainer and the states lead assessor.
That begins with a state-approved assessor establishing a wrestlers minimum weight before they can compete. Olsen said wrestlers first must pass a hydration test before they weigh in on a digital scale. After that, he said they examine body-fat percentage through a skin-fold examination or the Bod-Pod, a large, egg-like capsule. South owns a Bod-Pod machine where people can sit for about 10 minutes while computerized pressure sensors measure how much air the persons body displaces. With that information and the subjects weight, the machine is able to calculate body-fat percentage.
At that point, a wrestler is above the minimum fat percentage threshold is allowed to lose 1.5 percent of their body fat each week during the season. For example, Olsen said a male wrestler that begins the season at 240 pounds with a minimum weight of 189 could meet that by losing approximately 4 pounds per week.
It keeps a kid from going out and doing something drastic to lose 20 pounds, said Olsen, adding that the Wolves have tested for body-fat percentage for 14 years. A lot of our kids came in pretty close to their weight, within 5 to 8 pounds. But if you have a bigger kid, they might not be to their weight until later in the season.
Another new variable is an online database where coaches and wrestlers can keep track of weight-loss plans. Olsen said the site allows them to choose foods and makes suggestions for calorie consumption.
I dont think weve ever done a good job of giving parents, especially parents who arent around the sport and dont understand it a whole lot, a good diet plan to follow.
AN ONGOING ISSUE
Olsen said the WIAAs new program is similar to the one developed at the college level several years ago. The NCAA began looking into the issue after the 1997 deaths. According to New York Times, Reese suffered kidney failure and heart malfunction while wearing a rubber suit during a two-hour workout in a 92-degree room as he attempted to lose 12 pounds in a single day.
The same story also mentioned a 22-year-old wrestler at Wisconsin-La Crosse who collapsed and died while wearing a rubber suit to assist his weight-loss effort during a four-hour workout.
The mentality, even just 12 years ago, was you did it as hard and as fast as you could, said Hudiburg, who now coaches at Walla Walla High School. I always tried to sweat my weight down. That was common place in college; go into a steam room with a suit. Keep running until I got the weight off.
Hudiburg, who estimated that 90 percent of his teammates at PLU were weight cutting, began his techniques during his time at South. He said the Wolves had one of his fathers strongest teams during his junior year and the wrestlers wanted to spread our talent out.
I overdid it a bit my junior year, he said. I was coming off of 155 pounds from cross-country season and I was trying to get down to 141.
He said that because others were weight cutting, it created a domino effect where wrestlers feared that if they didnt lose drastic amounts of pounds in a short period, they would be stuck against others who previously competed in larger classes. Instead, Hudiburg and others found that they werent competing at optimal levels.
It really takes a toll on your body, he said. You try and compete and it wasnt your top performance.
Fasting, vomiting, use of laxatives and working out in plastic or rubber suits are some weight-loss techniques used by wrestlers. South coach Chad Nass, who won the 1992 state championship in the 141-pound bracket for the Wolves, said he practiced weight-cutting techniques at PLU.
You would go out and all the training you had done goes out the window because you dont have any energy, he said.
Meyerhoff, who coached 12 years at Franklin Pierce High in Tacoma and three years at PLU, said 8,400 athletes had been assessed among the 284 high schools that have programs statewide as of late November. He said he expects the number of participants to be similar to last year, when 8,500 boys and 418 girls competed. He added that less than 50 wrestlers have contested the results since testing began in September.
This only is having an effect on 10 percent of the kids at the most, he said. Some kids, for a variety of reasons, felt they had to lose weight to get better. Weve already heard back from coaches that the kids love it.
South senior Matt Foxworthy, the top-ranked 215-pound Class 4A wrestler in the state, said there have been some misconceptions about the program. He said some wrestlers initially were concerned that the program wouldnt allow them to lose weight.
Theyre just looking out for the safety of the athletes, he said.
Teammate Brad Fedderson, who wrestles at 189, doesnt care for the guidelines, which he believes are a reaction to extreme cases and punish others who want to lose weight.
I think it changes the sport, he said. If you know your body, it (losing weight your way) should be fine.
Middle-school and junior-high students wouldnt be governed by the same rules, due in part because their seasons typically dont extend past 12 weeks, Meyerhoff said.
But Olsen said he hopes regulations will be put on those athletes as the high-school system evolves.
Weve heard some stories that there are some junior-high students spitting and wearing rubber suits and doing those things, Olsen said. Hopefully junior-high wrestling programs are going to have something put on them as well.
This is the second year the program has been in place at South, but Olsen still sees some problems. He notes that someone whose ideal weight is 164 pounds would seek to gain weight to compete in the 171-pound class, then lose weight to compete at 160. Wrestlers also are allowed to compete in one of two weight classes at any given meet. A 159-pound person could wrestle at 160 or 171. Olsen said this could cause the same yo-yo effect as the 164-pound wrestler who could gain weight to compete in the higher class and loss weight the following week to be eligible at 160.
Olsen also expressed concerns about wrestlers who cut weight before the season. He said if they pass the hydration test, someone could wrestle at 103 pounds with 3 percent body fat.
If you get a kid like that, you have to have a doctor sign off on that, Olsen said. I hope that most physicians would see that and look back at what their weight had been in the past.
He also said the WIAA will put out a survey at the end of the season to get feedback on the program. One adjustment Olsen would like to see involves the weight classes.
Theres some huge gaps -- some are really tight together and some are really big, he said, noting the gaps between 160 and 171, and 171 and 189.
Olsen said he wasnt sure that will happen anytime soon because the WIAA follows the National Federation weights.
Theres always been talk, but they dont want too many weight classes that extend the matches and tournaments out, he said. They need to spread them out.