Wrestling Enthusiasts Denounce Age Rule

Eligibility Requirement Is Labeled 'Arbitrary'

January 07, 1992|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,Staff writer

Wrestlers are trained to maintain their balance and composure in anymatch.

For several county youth wrestling enthusiasts, however, it's no holds barred when the battle of age and eligibility meet the mat.

"If my son was 7 years old and someone was going to tell me that I can't let my son wrestle, I'd knock his teeth out," said Carl Cicchetti, director of the Buccaneers junior wrestling program. "He's my son, not his."

A county rule that prohibits children under the age of 8 from participation in any "county-sponsored competitive sports league" is being denounced once again by area wrestling coaches, directors and parents, who say they are being victimized by an "arbitrary decision."

"It was a decision made by someone in the parks and recreation office, and I don't think they should have done it like that," said Brian Eveleth, a veteran coach with the Severna Park Green Hornets. "They should have gotten the facts and figures and then talked to the various organizations, instead of arbitrarily saying, 'All kids, at such and such an age, cannot compete.'

"It should be a parental decision. Parents know their kids better than anyone, and they would know if they are mature enough to handle it. As long as they keepthe level of competition low-keyed and keep it fun for the kids, I see no reason why the county shouldn't support it."

Don Ruland disagrees.

Ruland, the county's recreation superintendent, has heard the complaints before, but supports the directive, maintaining it was created in the best interest of the children.

"We're pretty well within the framework of what we should be doing in the interest of young people," Ruland said. "There's no way anyone under the age of 8 should be thrust into a competitive environment, particularly in collision sports."

Ruland said an advisory committee made the decision after consulting with several knowledgeable people, including Dr. Jon Hellstadt, a sports psychologist and professor at the University of Lowell in Massachusetts, and Dr. Marshall K. Steele III of the Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center in Annapolis.

"It was a decision that had been arrived at through careful consideration by people recognized in the field of youth sports," said Ruland. "We don't just sit in here and pull this stuff off the wall. It was something we thought about a lot."

The way the wrestling people see it, it was a decision, contrived, contorted and condoned by Joseph McCann, the county's director of recreation and parks.

"It shouldn't be just one man's doing," Cicchetti said. "It should be up to parents. Even if they didbring in a psychiatrist, a psychiatrist is going to evaluate kids ingeneral (and) not all kids are the same. Each kid is different.

"We've asked Joe McCann to show us the results of the study, and we'vebeen waiting for two years now. If he's got valid proof, why doesn'the show it?"

"I think we deserve a blanket statement from whoeverthese people are, saying, 'Hey guys, this is why Joe McCann is making this decision,' " said Bucs' football director Tom Downey. "Just give us a brief surmise as to why these 7-year-olds can't wrestle. Justtell us why."

Veteran Buccaneers coach Frank Linton, who has produced such grappling greats as Chris Reina, a national prep tournamentrunner-up last year at Mount St. Joseph, argues that the age rule not only hinders the progress of the youngsters but also hurts his teamcome state tournament time.

"When we get to states, we're not represented the way we should be," he said, complaining that he has trouble finding 8-year-old wrestlers to fill the lower weight classes. "We have three seats in each weight class at the state tournament, and we only have four kids in the 50-pound class, so we're not sending our best three, we're sending our only three."

Like other organizations set on letting the younger children compete, the Buccaneers attend several out-of-county tournaments throughout the year. This enablesthe younger children to wrestle competitively, albeit at a cost absorbed by the organization and the parents.

The Recreation and ParksDepartment has no control over what occurs outside the county lines,but refuses to support such behavior.

"We told the wrestling people what they do (outside the county-sponsored leagues) is on their hook," said Ruland. "It is nothing we recommend, but if they choose to do it, and the parents permit the children to participate, there's nothing we can do to preclude that from happening."

Until the rule is amended, Linton vows he will continue to take his team far and wideto get his wrestlers maximum mat time. In his opinion, it's the onlyway to breed a champion.

"You can't teach experience," said Linton, whose youngest wrestler is 3-year-old Greg Baesch. "We tell kids the first time they sign up, this is a three- or four-year deal. You're not going to come in here and be a champion your first year of wrestling.

"In baseball, if you throw the ball and catch it, you've done something. Wrestling doesn't work that way. It's a tough sport to learn, and to be a consistent winner takes three to four years."

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