Could sin­glet go down for count?

Be­gin­ning next sea­son, high school wrestlers will have new uni­form op­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MARISSA PAYNE marissa.payne@wash­post.com

The wrestling sin­glet is as iconic as it is unique. But will it soon be ex­tinct?

That’s the worry of some tra­di­tion­al­ists after the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of State High School As­so­ci­a­tions, which gov­erns high school wrestling, of­fi­cially ap­proved an al­ter­na­tive two-piece uni­form this week.

Be­gin­ning next sea­son, high school wrestlers will have an al­ter­na­tive to the sin­glet: a form-fit­ting com­pres­sion shirt paired with ei­ther com­pres­sion shorts or a looser pair sim­i­lar to those worn by MMA fight­ers. The idea, ac­cord­ing to the fed­er­a­tion, is to make the sport more ap­peal­ing to young peo­ple who might be turned off by the sin­glet.

“High school coaches con­sis­tently feel that it’s a fac­tor,” El­liot Hop­kins, the fed­er­a­tion’s di­rec­tor of sports, sanc­tion­ing and ed­u­ca­tional ser­vices, told The Washington Post on Fri­day.

Hop­kins said high schools in Ken­tucky last sea­son agreed to try out the two-piece uni­forms on a trial ba­sis in ex­change for pro­vid­ing a writ­ten re­port, which Hop­kins de­scribed as “pos­i­tive.”

He added that if pro­vid­ing an al­ter­na­tive uni­form op­tion to the more re­veal­ing, skintight sin­glet can en­tice any­one new to try out a sport or help more body-con­scious chil­dren re­main in the sport, “That’s a good thing.”

High school wrestlers have mixed opin­ions on the uni­forms, with sev­eral telling The Post that, while they are in fa­vor of hav­ing an al­ter­na­tive to the sin­glet, they don’t plan on mak­ing the switch.

“I think the two-piece sin­glet will ap­peal to those that are not as fa­mil­iar with wrestling,” said Michael Bat­tista, a se­nior All-Met wrestler at Broad Run High. “I am com­fort­able com­pet­ing in a sin­glet since I’ve been do­ing it since fifth grade.” He added, how­ever, that he also wouldn’t mind com­pet­ing in a two-piece out­fit if he had to be­cause “it’s still wrestling re­gard­less of the uni­form.”

Ge­orge­town Prep se­nior All-Met wrestler Ethan Krause said he also wel­comed the new op­tion but noted it wasn’t for him.

“I will wear a sin­glet be­cause that’s what I’m ac­cus­tomed to and feel com­fort­able in,” he said.

Those views were echoed on the Face­book page of USA Wrestling, where hun­dreds of com­ments fol­low a post about the op­tion; sev­eral of the top com­ments are com­plaints.

“Come on! Stick with the sin­glets!” com­menter Bar­bara Rossi said. “If you can’t han­dle it, then don’t wres­tle.”

De­vel­oped in the 1960s, the sin­glet had be­come the stan­dard uni­form in wrestling by the early 1970s. It was in­tended to pre­vent uni­form mal­func­tions that re­sulted in what wrestling his­to­rian and jour­nal­ist Mark Palmer called “un­seemly ex­po­sure.”

Tony Black, di­rec­tor of state ser­vices for USA Wrestling, said he thinks th­ese “tra­di­tion­al­ists” — re­fer­ring to those against the new uni­form op­tion — are re­sist­ing the change be­cause they iden­tify strongly with what the sin­glet rep­re­sents.

“In the sports world, the sin­glet is eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able as be­long­ing to wrestling. It’s iconic in our sport,” he said.

That’s a dou­ble-edged sword, how­ever. Black re­it­er­ated that the sin­glet also could be a rea­son some would-be wrestlers have thus far avoided the sport.

“I think any­thing that wrestling can do to re­move bar­ri­ers of en­try into our sport is good,” he said.

Scholas­tic wrestling is the sev­en­th­most pop­u­lar sport among boys, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion Of State High School As­so­ci­a­tions, with 258,653 par­tic­i­pants na­tion­wide. Girls’ scholas­tic wrestling, which has been avail­able for the past three decades, does not fall within the top 10 sports; 13,496 girls par­tic­i­pate na­tion­wide.

Th­ese num­bers have all grown since the fed­er­a­tion be­gan print­ing its statis­tics in 1969, but not enough, ac­cord­ing to ad­vo­cates. For in­stance, in the late 1960s, 226,681 boys par­tic­i­pated in wrestling. When the fed­er­a­tion be­gan record­ing data about girls on all-fe­male squads in 1990 (pre­vi­ously, the fed­er­a­tion only counted the few girls who par­tic­i­pated on male squads), they num­bered just 386.

One rea­son for the new uni­form op­tion is to mod­ern­ize the sport, which was nearly dropped from the Olympic pro­gram after the 2012 Lon­don Games. FILA, as the sport’s in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ing body was then known, em­barked on what the As­so­ci­ated Press dubbed a “fran­tic six-month cam­paign” to save it. FILA’s ef­forts in­cluded changes to scor­ing, hir­ing a fe­male vice president and mak­ing ef­forts to mod­ern­ize, pop­u­lar­ize and thus, per­haps, even mon­e­tize the sport.

“I think any­one knows that sports and fash­ion have a com­mer­cial side to it that can be quite lu­cra­tive,” Lee Roy Smith, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Mu­seum, told The Post on Thurs­day.

In other words, no one’s go­ing to the sport­ing goods store to buy a wrestling sin­glet to wear to school. But one could, per­haps, one day buy a Team USA wrestling com­pres­sion shirt to sup­port a He­len Maroulis or a Kyle Sny­der, both of whom won gold medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

McLean Coach Ken Jack­son said Fri­day that he planned to of­fer the al­ter­na­tive uni­forms next sea­son. Coach Cliff Kraisser of Cen­ten­nial High in El­li­cott City agreed that two-piece uni­forms can look “pretty cool” and said he would con­sider re­plac­ing his school’s sin­glets with them when the team next gets new uni­forms.

“The kids will prob­a­bly like them,” he said.

With such in­cen­tives to ditch the sin­glet, it seems in­evitable that the new uni­form choices might spread to all lev­els of wrestling — and some­day re­place the sin­glet. The Hall of Fame in Still­wa­ter, Okla., has yet to add the two­piece uni­form, Smith said, but he added that “we’ll get it. We will cer­tainly make a few calls.”

The NCAA has al­lowed col­lege teams the op­tion of two-piece uni­forms over the past decade, but most stick with the sin­glets.

Should ath­letes grow up wrestling in two-piece uni­forms, that could change. And if one day the new uni­forms are sanc­tioned for use at the Olympic level, all bets are off.

In that case, Smith said, “There’s no ques­tion. The sin­glet will be a thing of the past.”

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Rio gold medal win­ner Kyle Sny­der (Good Coun­sel) is shown wear­ing a sin­glet, which has be­come iconic in wrestling.

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