Could singlet go down for count?
Beginning next season, high school wrestlers will have new uniform option
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.”
Rio gold medal winner Kyle Snyder (Good Counsel) is shown wearing a singlet, which has become iconic in wrestling.