Is wrestling possible during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mt. Lebanon athletic director John Grogan believes there are arguments to be made for playing the sport this season, especially on the scholastic level.
“Is wrestling any different than boxing out for a rebound in basketball?” Grogan said. “When you look at the periods they are short.”
Wrestling bouts consist of three, two-minute periods. According to Grogan that’s well under the 10-minute limit advised by the experts for exposure to the coronavirus.
Grogan said if any athletes are used to following protocols and knowing how to avoid viruses and other contagions, its wrestlers because they “deal with this on a yearly basis.”
For more than a quarter century, Marc Allemang has handled such issues as a competitor and coach.
Allemang was a four-year starter at Bethel Park, where he has been inducted into the high school’s athletic Hall of Fame. After a four-year stint at Duquesne University, he served two seasons as an assistant coach at Baldwin and eight at Mt. Lebanon before being name head coach in 2015.
Allemang said his Blue Devils are taking the necessary precautions and are following the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Allegheny County Health Department, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania Department of Education and the PIAA.
“Obviously, while wrestling there is physical contact that is going to take place,” Allemang said. “We are taking every precaution that we can to help prevent the spread.
“Our wrestlers are masked. They know how important it is to stay masked outside of school as well,” he added. “We also talk about how we are being given a great opportunity to do what we love. We should not take that for granted.”
Noting, too, that the length of a match is typically six minutes or less, Allemang said when wrestling in a head-to-head match with another school “our wrestlers will only face one other wrestler.”
The Blue Devils opened their 2021 campaign at home Jan. 9, five days after the state-ban on scholastic and amateur athletics as well as other activities was lifted by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Lebo hosted home matches against Bethel Park and Ringgold Jan. 13 and 15, respectively.
On tap next are four away bouts, two of them duals — Seneca Valley and Cavalier — and two of them section match-ups against Upper St. Clair and Central Catholic. In February, Lebo battles Fox Chapel and Moon before entering postseason action.
The temporary pause in training from Dec. 12 to Jan. 4 forced the Blue Devils to shift how they practiced. Allemang met with his wrestlers over Zoom calls, but he said they were basically on their own during that stretch of time. It was foreign territory for Allemang.
“This was the first time in my life I was not either training through the holidays myself or with one of my teams,” he said.
Allemang’s squad is young. Many wrestlers are getting a taste of varsity action for the first time. Nevertheless, the approach to practice is to focus on opportunity.
“Every competition there’s a feeling of gratitude that we can compete,” Allemang said.
Mac Stout is Lebo’s top competitor. The junior was a PIAA runner-up in 2020. His silver-medal showing capped a 42-3 season. Stout, who was a county, sectional, district and regional champion, is 74-13 overall in his two varsity seasons.
“Mac has goals of getting back into the PIAA finals these next two seasons,” said Allemang. “He looks big, strong and ready to get back on the mat.”
With changes to postseason action, it will be harder for wrestlers to qualify for the PIAA championships.
“The wrestlers that are going to be at the state tournament are ones that kept themselves training throughout the duration of the spring, summer, and fall,” Allemang said. “The shortened season makes it challenging for the newer wrestlers that are still learning.”
Nevertheless Allemang see potential in his youthful line-up. Lebo boasts just three seniors, Pat Dunn, Ben Streiff and Alex Tambouratzis. That equals the number of freshmen: Grant Elder, Joe Gamble and Ejiro Montoya.
In addition to Stout, Louie Pietragallo, Sam Mago, Mustafa Ismail, James Duffy, Nick Busalacchi and Sayed Shabir Amin are the other juniors.
Among the sophomores on the roster are Aiden Beinhauer, Kade Capristo, Sean Coffman, Lukas Mariani, Trey Royer and Nathan Sala.
“While it’s too early to tell how things will go, we have a lot of kids that I feel can make noise and wrestle deep into the postseason,” Allemang said. That will play itself out over the next few months. Ultimately though we feel fortunate that we are wrestling and competing.”