It seemed like an easy enough assignment. Officiating an elementary school wrestling match.
Oh what a nightmare. To begin with, the entire student body showed up for this particular match, and when 200 third- and fourth-grade boys and girls all scream simultaneously, they sound like 200 girls screaming.
It was fingernails on the chalkboard for a steady 45 minutes.
Then the matches themselves. Since the kids had just learned a few moves, it was a flop fest. It was more like team tumbling than wrestling. One kid on top, then the bottom, then the top.
The entire time I was throwing up fingers. Two reverse, two takedown, three backpoints, two reverse, one escape. The volunteer scorekeeper would be looking at me with a quizzical expression. “Was that 2, 2, 3, 2, 1 or 2, 3, 2, 1, 3?
I had no idea.
Nevertheless, I developed a healthy appreciation for wrestling officials that day. It is a tough, tough job at any level.
At the high school level, officials can certainly affect the outcome of a match, kind of like a football official throwing a flag for pass interference. A lot of it is a judgment call.
Area wrestling fans got a good look at that effect on Wednesday when Columbus East 132-pounder Dalton Noblitt dropped a 3-1 decision to Mooresville’s Mitch Anderson.
Noblitt, the only area wrestler to advance to the state meet last year, was the aggressor almost the entire match, yet he was the one called for stalling when he didn’t react quickly enough in the second period when Anderson had gotten to his feet and was trying to escape. Noblitt was locked up on one of Anderson’s legs and wasn’t moving up to the rest of the body in a manner that suited the official.
The call certainly was justified and was within the rules. Here’s the problem.
The official created a situation where Noblitt probably thought he had to raise his aggression to an even higher level in the third period with the match tied 1-1.
How did the official do that? By not calling an earlier stalling on Anderson, he created a situation where Anderson could simply stay away from Noblitt late in the match. A second caution carries a point penalty, but when you haven’t gotten a first, you can continue to stall.
Noblitt, who did have a stall warning and didn’t have luxury of waiting for his opponent to shoot a move, obviously became a bit frustrated with the retreating Anderson and tried to force a headlock on him with about 20 seconds left.
When Anderson slipped through the move, he wiggled behind Noblitt and registered a takedown that decided the match.
That was a prime example of the subtle nature of officiating and its difficulty. If Anderson had been called for stalling earlier, it might have changed everything.
Noblitt wouldn’t have needed to initiate every move when the two were on their feet. If the official didn’t want to call Anderson for backing away earlier in the match, he could have kept the playing field even by looking the other way when Noblitt was holding on to Anderson for dear life in the second period.
It’s kind of like a football official who allows the defensive back to be a little more physical against a wide receiver or a basketball official who allows some extra contact under the basket.
After the Noblitt match was over, nobody in orange was about to complain. East coach Chris Cooper said that his wrestler needs to do a better job of shooting on the legs and completing takedowns. Cooper’s focus was that if Noblitt had done a better job scoring points early, he wouldn’t have been in a desperate situation late.
Kudos to Cooper for not talking about something that he can’t control anyway.
Being a sports writer, I have the luxury to focus on all kinds of stuff. I just hope that as sectionals and regionals approach, that officials, the ones with a very tough job, do their best to keep the playing field even. In close matches, those stall warnings can have a huge impact.
It’s an elementary concept.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.