High school administrators and wrestling coaches have gone through a lot this year, trying to pull off a wrestling season under the parameters set up by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association with regard to the pandemic.
So officials at Mead Thursday night weren’t going to let a little wind and rain – and perhaps even a dust storm – get in their way.
With some wild weather blowing through the area during the day, Thursday’s outdoor wrestling match between rivals Mead and Mt. Spokane at Union Stadium might have been in jeopardy.
But wrestlers are built a little differently.
Despite some showers that passed through, and gale force winds at times which required athletes not wrestling to sit on the edges of the mat for fear they would go airborne, things went off as planned. Mostly, anyway.
In the end, Mt. Spokane edged Mead 33-32 in a nailbiter between traditional state powerhouses. And while the results were important and mattered to the participants, it was something of a logistical masterpiece it happened at all.
Wrestling has been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions as much, if not more than, any other WIAA sport. Coaches and administrators have spent more time taking temperatures, issuing nasal swabs, quarantining and doing the inherent paperwork that went along with all of it than actually coaching their athletes.
So how much effort did this oversized event take?
“A lot of effort by Coach McLean, a lot of determination by Coach McLean,” Mead athletic director John Barrington said. “He wanted to get this done. And then, from our district maintenance staff helping us get mats over here.”
“Just a little bit,” Mead coach Phil McLean joked. “It’s just been an unknown. It’s like the typical what we’ve been going through. It actually is fitting, with all the unknowns, and the daily changes, and the obstacles. I mean it’s almost funny this fits right into the COVID crazy season.”
At one point, when it was feared that Spokane County would slide back into Phase 2, Greater Spokane League organizers were preparing to hold all GSL wrestling outdoors in order to get a season in under the guidelines. That didn’t happen, but Mead, along with Gonzaga Prep earlier in the week, said “Why not?” to holding a match outdoors.
Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate though. Who’s heard of a wrestling match getting rained out?
As it turned out, the late-day winds out of the west that brought a dust storm were worse than the midday showers.
“Mats were flying apart,” Barrington said. “We brought over weights. We had Gators parked on the mat, kids sitting all over the mat. So yeah it’s been a show.”
“Maybe not ideal,” McLean said. “But we modified, adjusted, made it work. But it’s pretty cool.”
McLean said it would be hard to hold a wrestling match outside during a normal winter season, but the idea could stick around for summer camps.
The wrestlers were very much in favor of the event, despite all of the odds against actually pulling it off.
Mead’s Jake Mark, who wrestled in the 145-pound class, could hardly contain his excitement.
“Oh my gosh, this event is absolutely incredible,” he said before the meet. “I played soccer out here before, but we didn’t really have that many fans. But today, I mean, with fans, there’s going to be a lot of people out here. It’s gonna start getting dark towards the end, it’s gonna be crazy. I mean, it could rain at any point in time – you could be wrestling in the rain. It could be unreal.”
The football bleachers gave the scene a different feel than the school’s wrestling room.
“It’s just a whole different vibe than we’ve ever had before,” Mark said, “Normally in a gym it’s compact. It echoes out here, you’re gonna have the music blaring loudly, and the fans are going to be able to come down… they’re going to be able to storm the field (if) we win, just like a football game, so that part is going to be super cool.”
After everything high school athletes have gone through this season, the outdoor event was a treat for those participating.
“I think the kids, and why we pushed so hard for this is, you know, they needed something,” McLean said. “A little carrot somewhere.”
“I’m thrilled,” Mark said. “It’s just a nice break from the monotony of everything, you know.”
Mark won his match by pin for the Panthers, but the defending State 3A champion Wildcats held on to the team decision by the slimmest of margins.