Wrestling's less appealing characteristics, from weight loss to skin disorders to bleeding, are the impressions many outsiders may have of the sport.
High school wrestling's image suffered another setback Tuesday when the Minnesota Department of Health recommended, and the Minnesota State High School League ordered, an eight-day statewide suspension of practice and meets after an outbreak of an infectious skin disease.
Practice, competition and direct contact can't resume until Feb. 7. The shutdown applies to all wrestlers, at all weight classes, at all schools. Conditioning and running may continue but no competition or direct contact with teammates is permitted.
The suspension is the result of an outbreak of herpes gladiatorum, a skin infection due to herpes simplex type-1 virus. As of Tuesday, the MSHSL was aware of 24 clinically confirmed cases of herpes gladiatorum at the 189-, 215- and 285-pound weight classes.
Brainerd High School wrestling coaches Mike Boran (left) and Jim Kath informed wrestlers of the directive issued by the Minnesota State High School League Tuesday banning contact among Minnesota prep wrestlers as a result of an outbreak of a skin infection. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The outbreak was noticed after the Clash V Duals team tournament Dec. 29-30 at Rochester. Since then, 10 teams have reported wrestlers with skin lesions on the face, head or neck.
With section and state tournaments rapidly approaching, the state health department and the MSHSL made the ruling to help control the outbreak and prevent further transmission.
Aitkin wrestled in the Clash V Duals in December but Gobblers coach Dan Stifter said his team has had no skin issues.
"We've had some of the usual stuff we've dealt with every year but we haven't had any problem with those kids (at 189, 215 and 285)," Stifter said. "We've had a few junior high kids who have had some things but they weren't at that tournament."
Stifter said students were entering his classroom Tuesday wondering about the suspension. Stifter said skin issues have been a concern for years.
"We did have a doctor come into our wrestling room last week," Stifter said, "and he said wrestling coaches and the wrestling community in general has a good understanding of skin conditions and issues.
"It's a little disappointing, but I've been at state and seen kids told they can't compete because of something. I know what kind of pain and suffering they've gone through. If we have to go through some discomfort I would rather do it now than a couple weeks later in St. Paul."
Brainerd coach Mike Boran said the public probably will react negatively, which he said was unfortunate, to the suspension.
"There is a connotation with herpes, which can be (a sexually transmitted disease), which is negative as well," Boran said. "When people hear herpes they probably say, 'Oh, gee, they've got a problem and maybe they should get rid of wrestling.'
"One of the things that unfortunately is part of wrestling is skin-to-skin contact. I hope people don't look at it as wrestling's a bad thing now. Wrestling gets a bad break on a lot of issues that people aren't very educated on, the idea of losing weight, and now the skin issues. I hope people can look past it, that wrestling is still a good thing because it really is."
Little Falls coach Mike Hendrickson said the suspension actually occurs at a good time for the Flyers.
"We're very lucky this week that we have zero competition," Hendrickson said. "We just had two weeks with a lot of wrestling. This is our week to rest up for (section) tournaments. We will miss next Tuesday's conference dual with Rocori so that's unfortunate. I don't know if it will be made up because it's getting down to crunch time.
"The whole situation is unfortunate. This obviously will not be good publicity for wrestling, which is what I fear the most because the next thing you know they will say, 'Let's not have wrestling anymore.'"
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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