Skin Infection Leaves Wrestlers In Limbo

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Payson’s Tate Sweeney wrestles against Winslow on Dec. 4. Sweeney and his teammates were still awaiting word from the AIA on Monday afternoon about when the sectional tournament would take place.

Payson’s wrestlers were ready for the section tournament. But the section tournament wasn’t ready for them.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association postponed the 16 high school wrestling sectional tournaments — four in each of the four divisions — scheduled for last Saturday, Feb. 8 because “a number of wrestlers” have contracted a skin infection, according to an AIA press release.

“We had an early workout and the kids showered up and we were sitting in the wrestling room ready to go and we got a call from a parent who’d heard the news,” said Payson assistant coach Dave LaMotte. “There were teams that were already on the road. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

A second AIA press release late Monday afternoon confirmed the Division III and IV state tournaments would not begin as scheduled on Thursday, but left all the key questions unanswered.

“The AIA staff and the AIA Executive Board consider the health and safety of all students to be of the highest concern,” Monday’s statement read. “The postponement of the sectional tournament last week was done based on advice and counsel received from medical, public health officials and experts within the national wrestling community. Based on that information, without dissent, the sectionals were postponed in order to reduce the risk of the spread of further skin related infection(s).”

The statement said the AIA is working with Maricopa County health officials to identify the infections and prevent their spread.

AIA Associate Executive Director Chuck Schmidt added, “We hope that this will come to a timely resolution. We realize that this was an inconvenience and disappointment for many and yet, reducing the possible spread of infection had to take priority.”

The AIA said it will have to decide by Tuesday whether to go on with the postseason tournament as early as Friday, Feb. 14.

The sectional tournaments are qualifiers for the state tournament, originally slated for this Thursday through Saturday at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.

Payson was scheduled to compete in the Division III Section I tournament at Winslow, with the top five individuals there qualifying for the Division III state tournament Thursday-Friday. The Division IV state tournament was to take place simultaneously, while the Division I and Division II tournaments were set for Friday-Saturday.

As of Saturday afternoon, LaMotte said Payson wrestlers weren’t affected by the infection. “Our kids were ready,” he said. “They had their weights down and were excited.”

He noted, “skin infections are something you worry about every day,” LaMotte said. “Every once in a while you may get some ringworm or something like that. I don’t know what we’re dealing with. The rumor is there were six teams involved.”

LaMotte said the existing system for dealing with skin infections at tournaments relies on doctors on hand determining whether an individual wrestler can participate. At last year’s tournament, one Payson wrestler was disqualified by the doctor on site despite having a letter from his doctor clearing him to compete.

“He had some ringworm and was treated and a doctor wrote a note saying it was healed and wasn’t contagious,” LaMotte said. “But it’s up to the doctor on site and he disqualified him. In 35 years of coaching high school wrestling in Arizona, Ohio and West Virginia I can’t recall something like this happening anywhere. There’ve been epidemics in different states with staph or something like that. But, unfortunately, the people that have it are disqualified. They can’t wrestle.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m condemning the AIA because I don’t have all the information, but it just doesn’t sound right. I know they have to look out for the best interests of students, but it’s just like an injury or an illness, it’s unfortunate but those people can’t compete. That’s just part of the ball game. Maybe we’ll get all the information and it’ll be clearer, but I doubt it.

“They called right before people were leaving and some teams were already on the road. I don’t know when they found out about this, but it’s crazy to do this hours before people were leaving.”

It appears the AIA posted the story about the postponements on its Web site the night before the sectionals, but most people don’t check the AIA Web site on a nightly basis, so some teams didn’t find out until Saturday.

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