Iowa wrestling moves ahead; Minnesota’s season is still only a theory

High school wrestling is well under way in Iowa. Practice hasn’t begun in Minnesota yet. And in case you haven’t heard, there’s a pandemic going on.

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Kade Sammons (left), a junior from Windom/Mountain Lake, placed third at 132 pounds at the 2020 Minnesota state wrestling championships. Teams can begin practicing for the 2020-21 season on Jan. 4. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)

High school wrestling is well under way in Iowa. Practice hasn’t begun in Minnesota yet. And in case you haven’t heard, there’s a pandemic going on.

In Iowa, wrestling is a little weird these days. Schools are allowed to participate in big tournaments, just so long as nobody shows up to watch them. That includes parents, too.

Sibley-Ocheyedan High School has already hosted an 8-team regular season tourney, but no spectators were allowed. The Generals went on the road last weekend for a 12-team tournament in Spencer, but again the bleachers were empty. Later this winter, they’ll have a truly large two-day regular season tournament in Ida Grove featuring as many as 24 teams. Again, no fans.

“It’s a lot different. You don’t have the noise. But at the end of the day, we’re just fortunate that the kids can compete,” said first-year S-O head coach Nick Krogman.

This is the first year Krogman, a 1997 Sibley-Ocheyedan graduate and a state qualifier in his senior year, has ever spent coaching at the high school level. He said he’s having fun, though it’s been a learning experience for both himself and his matmen.


Yes, it’s different. When he shouts at his wrestlers while they’re competing, he’s more than a little bit aware of his voice.

“You’re a coach. You’re yelling,” he said. “I’m kind of loud anyway.”

Thankfully, spectators are allowed at Iowa dual meets. And, actually, fans sometimes can watch tournaments in real time, too. The tourney that Sibley hosted was offered live on YouTube.

For Minnesota, however, it remains uncertain at this point just how different the 2020-21 rules might be. Worthington High School athletic director Josh Dale said on Monday that everyone’s waiting for guidance from health organizations, from the governor’s office, and from the Minnesota High School League on specific dates for events to start, and what new regulations will need to be followed. There is one rumor floating around, he said, that athletes will need to wear masks for basketball and hockey.

“It’s just a wait and see,” he summed up.

To some fans, it may seem incredible that wrestling can go forward at all when all winter sports in Minnesota participated in a “pause” over the past month. If it’s risky to play basketball, how risky would it be for the close contact wrestling is all about?

Actually, it’s not as risky as you might think, said Minnesota West Community and Technical College athletic director Bob Purcell.

“The aspect is, in this day of Covid, nothing is safe,” he began. Then he added, “(In wrestling) you’re basically one-on-one with somebody at the college level, for seven minutes. Let’s put that in the context of basketball. They’re in constant contact with their opponents a lot longer than wrestling.”


But it’s awfully close contact, right?

Not so much. In a typical match, there might not be more than two minutes of riding time.

Whereas Minnesota high school wrestling is not yet working with a definite start-up date for meets, Minnesota West -- which is working on a national plan -- is already cleared for events to proceed on Jan. 20. The bigger issue at West is that the school is currently mandated to test each of its winter athletes three times a week.

“We’ve gotta figure out how to afford it,” said Purcell, pointing out that the costs could be as much as $5,000 per week.

“I think they were thinking about what the Division I programs could afford instead of what the normal colleges could afford,” he said.

Adrian/Ellsworth head high school wrestling coach Gregg Nelson is planning to begin practice on the Jan. 4 date. Schools are not required to start on the fourth; some will start later. But Nelson, like his peers, is waiting to hear specific news about guidelines.

“We don’t even know if we can compete, and that goes for all winter sports,” he said.

Situated as they are in the southwest corner of Minnesota, coaches are well aware that the rules are different for Iowa and South Dakota. Nelson went deer hunting recently in Murdo, S.D., and watched a girl-boy basketball doubleheader while there.


“If there were 300 people there, I saw five masks,” he said.

Iowa expects fans to wear their masks at basketball games nowadays, and they’re also asked to maintain social distance.

At Iowa wrestling matches, several rules are already in place. Wrestlers are not to sit close together when they’re not competing, and they are supposed to wear masks when they’re not warming up. Krogman’s practices are fairly normal, but partners are rotated more frequently and efforts are made for grapplers to spread out in the wrestling room.

There are different weigh-in procedures this year. Wrestlers must wear a singlet to weigh in, and many weigh-ins have been moved from locker rooms to gymnasiums, where several scales are available.

Krogman says that he hopes to have six district qualifiers this season. There were four state qualifiers last season, led by 2020-21 returnees Jonathan Krogman (the coach’s son; 132 pounds) and Dahson DeJong (170). Another strong returning competitor is 152-pounder Garrett Sarringar.

The Generals have been battling injuries in recent weeks, said the new head coach. But at least he’s not battling the kind of uncertainty Minnesotans still have to face.


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