Delaware is one of two states, along with Michigan, that are requiring mask use for most of its high school athletes, but one winter sport is trying to crack that trend.
The Delaware Wrestling Coaches Association has submitted a letter to the Division of Public Health and the DIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee saying that wrestling should be exempted from the rule.
DWCA President David Williams, head coach at Newark Charter, told WDEL that current facial coverings would be essentially useless, especially if you're trying to shorten contact time between wrestlers.
"A facial covering won't stay on in wrestling. It will continually come off during the match. The referee will have to keep on stopping that match, and that will prolong the match. Even though a match is six minutes, it actually takes about nine minutes. With facial coverings, the matches will take 18-20 minutes more than likely with the amount of times the referee will have to start and restart."
While one mild concern could be a mask snap being a distraction, Williams said the masks could also hurt in another key part of the sport.
"You can't breathe as you wrestling as it is. A lot of the moves are to restrict the other guy's breathing. To have a mask covering someone's face while they're being put in holds where the breathing is already being restricted is dangerous. The risk for cardiac arrest or other respiratory issues coming to light and putting a kid in danger is a reality."
The SMAC Committee, acting as a liaison between the DIAA and the Delaware Division of Public Health, has been tasked with creating and approving individual sport guidance in concert with DPH.
Committee Chair Dr. Michael Axe said he would be receptive to the request, but he wants more scientific-based information from other states, especially Pennsylvania, which will be allowing not just dual meets, but tournaments, and will start slightly before Delaware's winter sports begin on December 21.
"I am more than willing to go to the Department of Public Health, with that success, in January to get the mask rule changed so that wrestlers will not have to use masks. But we all know that the minute wrestling doesn't have to wear masks, all sports will be without masks, so it will be an all-or-nothing response at that time."
That all-or-nothing response is because the Delaware Department of Public Health has mandated that high-and-moderate contact sports either use masks, or adjust their rules to avoid all contact.
Those rules cover just about all Delaware sports except tennis, individual track, golf, swimming, and cross country.
Dr. Axe said if wrestling suddenly doesn't have to wear a mask, it's going to be hard for DPH to argue they're needed for any of the others.
"If contact is the critical consideration for COVID spread, than if we clear wrestling, all sports are going to want to be cleared, whether they are as sanitized as wrestling, or not. That's a reality."
Williams said that because only Delaware and Michigan are leaning towards mask rules, manufacturers haven't put much, or any, effort into wrestling-based mask solutions.
"We would be paying someone to come fully design a model really for just one and one other state. No where else in the world are they wrestling with masks on."
Dr. Axe said one big checkmark for wrestling are its pre-existing sanitation rules. The sport routinely stops for any blood, and because of instances of ringworm and other diseases, the cleanliness standards exceed any other sport, but it might not be enough to translate to COVID for some decision makers.
"Even though the wrestling community is probably more aware of communicable diseases than anyone, because they are not permitted to wrestle if they have a skin problem unlike any other sport, that even that is a high burden for them."
Ultimately, Williams said if the wrestling community was told they had to mask-up, they would.
"Coaches would sign up, we'd do it and figure out how to make it work. I think it would be a bad decision, and I think we would find out some of the other dangers that would come with that that people aren't thinking about, but we could absolutely. I know some seniors that would do anything to have their senior season. We've already conceded that we can't have tournaments. Last year my best wrestlers wrestled 45 matches, this year we're just trying to have 12 dual meets and maybe a state tournament. We're fighting for a quarter of our season as is, and we can make it work."
Another concern the DIAA Sports Medicine Committee had Monday night was the first two full weeks of the fall sports competition following the DIAA's COVID protocols.
"We know that mask wear is pretty good, but social distancing is horrible. You need to have an individual whose only job is to maintain social distancing."
During the Salesianum at Dover football game Friday night, the officials once paused the game and warned each team to separate from each other six feet on the sidelines. Just moments later, players were already bunching back together.
Dr. Axe said that could cause a team a problem if one of those players joins the nine Delaware high school athletes who have had a confirmed COVID positive result, according to the DIAA.
"If indeed there is a problem, you're going to end up having the whole team being quarantined because of the measures that were failed to be taken. Public Health will ask the question 'Are you sure that masks were worn the entire time and that they has social distancing?' Well, the masks we're pretty good at, they usually get them back up pretty quickly, but the social distancing has been a nightmare."
SMAC member JT Laws, an assistant coach at Caravel, said it is a work in progress for everyone.
"It's going to be continued reminders to make sure everybody is doing what they need to do. I think everybody is very well intentioned in doing what they need to do right now."
DIAA Executive Director Donna Polk told SMAC she's aware of some complaints.
"I received several observation reports, mostly from officials, regarding social distancing and some of our protocols that weren't being followed, and I'm following up with each individual school."
The Delaware Interscholastic Officials Committee told the DIAA Board of Directors in October that some of their members would not work if mask protocols we not being followed, and that they didn't want to be the ones enforcing them on the sidelines.
Those nine high school athlete COVID cases have been split between soccer, field hockey, football, and volleyball, according to DIAA Executive Director Donna Polk.
One of the affected schools answered their two-week quarantine by scheduling 10 games over an 18 period from November 9 to November 27.
That caught the attention of Dr. Bradley Bley, who pushed for, and received, a SMAC recommendation to remind the DIAA Board their recommendation was for games to be separated by at least 72 hours to allow for any potential COVID cases to come forward.
"I think 72 hours would give flexibility. If they played on a Friday, Sunday they found out, if you allowed 72 hours between games that should be adequate."
Potential major problems, besides turning a six week season into four for the schools affected by COVID positives, include the referee shortage, and the simple challenge of scheduling games in a condensed timeframe.
"I think we should present it to the big board and discuss with them. Clearly it's not being followed the way it was originally laid out. I think we need to at least present it to them that it was an issue, and our recommendation would be that we would spread out games by 72 hours."
A 72-hour rule would affect nearly every school's current field hockey, volleyball, and boys soccer schedule, whether they had to account for a two-week break or not.
The DIAA Board of Directors is expected to have a lengthy meeting on Thursday morning to discuss these issues and many more.
Besides wrestling, there are still questions how swimming and indoor track would even be able to conduct their state championships.
There is no indoor track facility in Delaware big enough to host the DIAA Indoor Track Meet, which has been conducted in recent years at the Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover, Maryland.
Swimming's state meets are held at the University of Delaware Natatorium, on a campus that is currently not allowing outside visitors. Also, several schools are struggling to find places to hold practices as some facilities, such as YMCA's, are restricting non-member use.