The new rule adopted by the National Federation of State High School Associations allowing wrestlers to wear a new two-piece uniform was approved by the Wrestling Rules Committee on May 3.
Reaction has been quick throughout the local wrestling community.
The official description for the new uniform was: “The compression shorts or shorts designed for wrestling shall be school-issued and shall have a minimum 4-inch inseam that does not extend below the knee. The form-fitted compression shirt shall not cover or extend below the elbow and shall have a minimum 3-inch tail. The shirt may be worn under a singlet or with compression shorts or shorts designed for wrestling.”
Area wrestlers and Carlisle coach Joe Wilson spoke to The Sentinel about the changes. Opinion varied, but consensus said the singlets are here to stay, even if the new two-piece option becomes a favorite for some wrestlers.
“I have been involved in wrestling since I was in the second grade. Singlets were always just part of the sport,” Wilson said. “As a coach, I have had kids tell me that they wouldn’t wrestle because of the uniform. That could be the case or it could just be an excuse to not wrestle because it is the toughest sport on the planet.”
Three area wrestlers plan to stick with the singlet the majority of the time, but it never hurts to try something new.
“I’ll wear both uniforms, but I’ll always stay true to the singlet because it’s traditional and it’s more pure,” Cumberland Valley junior Quentin Milliken (160) said. “Also, it shows off more muscle (laughs). I think it’s good for the sport if it’ll help it grow. It also shows that wrestling is evolving.”
“I will definitely keep the original singlet look next year, just because it’s what I’ve always worn and I feel comfortable in,” Cedar Cliff sophomore Donovon Ball (170) said. “But there may be a few times where I’ll try out the two-piece.”
“I personally will stick to the singlet, but I think I’ll at least try out the two-piece in a couple matches, because I’ve wrestled for my entire life in a singlet,” Camp Hill junior Luca Colestock (170) said.
"I have wrestled my entire life in a singlet and plan on keeping it that way," Mechanicsburg sophomore Nick Tewell (126) said. "I am comfortable in a singlet and believe in the tradition."
The one concern for the new uniforms, from a coach’s perspective, is the total cost of clothing all of their wrestlers. According to Wilson, to put all of his wrestlers in the new two-piece uniforms would cost upwards of $5,000.
“I would imagine that most kids at Carlisle are perfectly okay with a typical singlet, but for tournaments I would not be opposed to a kid wearing one of the new ones,” Wilson said. “I will probably leave it up to the individual and give them an option to purchase them if they decide to do so. We have kicked around the idea of getting a set for (JV) with hopes that it could draw more kids to the room.”
Declining participation is partly why the NFHS introduced the two-piece option. According to participation statistics put together by NFHS on their website, n 2015-16 there were 250,653 varsity wrestlers in the country. That’s down nearly 8,000 from the year before and a notable drop from the 2009-10 season, 272,890, according to NFHS.
In Pennsylvania, a wrestling hotbed with some of the highest participation rates in the country, the decline has been less dramatic: from 2009-10 to 2015-16, the most recent season NFHS has on record, the number of total boys participating in the sport declined only a smidge from 9,920 to 9,780.
The hope is that the new option could ease body image and self-confidence issues.
But locals say if you don’t have confidence it may affect your abilities on the mat regardless of uniform.
“Confidence is a huge part of wrestling, and if someone isn’t confident enough to be in a singlet they wouldn’t be wrestling,” Milliken said.
“I think for new wrestlers it will fix the body issues, but for experienced kids it won’t make a difference,” Colestock said.
The rule targets bigger kids, and it’s still unclear how much an option that will cover more skin will affect participation rates among heavyweights.
“I guess some big guys may feel more comfortable in these,” Wilson said. “Ultimately, though, it comes down to if a kid is tough enough to compete in the sport and in the room. The six minutes wearing the singlet is not the tough part, it’s the hours in the room and in the weight room, running, that is the toughest for kids to face.”
“I think they’ll help the body image look for not only heavier weights but all weights, and I would expect some more people to give wrestling a try,” Ball said.
"I feel as if the uniform changes are a symbol of the sport changing as a whole," Tewell said. "It symbolizes a new era to the sport. Honestly, if the uniform change attracts more wrestlers than I am all for it."
As time goes on, the focus and interest will be in how many kids will don the two-piece rather than the singlet.