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What two-piece high school uniforms mean for wrestling

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After nearly a half-century as being the one-and-only uniform in amateur wrestling, the singlet is about to get some competition, at least on the high school level, as the National Federation for State High School Associations has approved rule changes which will allow scholastic wrestlers the option to wear two-piece uniforms on the mat.

The NFHS announced that its Wrestling Rules Committee approved the uniform option, which includes compression shorts or shorts designed for wrestling, and a form-fitted compression shirt. The new two-piece uniform will be legal for the 2017-18 season and beyond.

What will the new two-piece uniform option to the traditional singlet — the standard uniform for high school and collegiate wrestling in the U.S. since first gaining widespread use in the late 1960s and early 1970s — mean for the sport overall?

“The committee approved use of the alternate two-piece uniform in the hopes of increasing boys’ and girls’ participation in the sport after receiving favorable results from experimentation and positive comments from schools, students, coaches and officials,” the NFHS said in its announcement.

Presently, just over a quarter-million high school students participate in wrestling, with 250,653 boys and 13,496 girls involved in the sport, according to the 2015-16 NFHS Athletics Participation Survey.

Some within the wrestling community have shared concerns from would-be wrestlers who have said that the one-piece singlet is “too revealing” and may serve as a “deal-breaker” to keep some out of the sport.

Two-piece uniforms: a winning alternative to singlets?

Will the new two-piece uniform answer these concerns … and actually help boost participation?

Two-piece uniforms have already made an appearance at the college level … most notably, this past season at the NCAA Division I program at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.

Rutgers University head coach Scott Goodale, who previously coached at Jackson Memorial High School in New Jersey, said that if the two-piece uniform option helps more prospective student-athletes come out for the sport, he’s in favor of the rule change, according to MyCentralNewJersey.com.

“I think it’s great for the sport,” said Marcus Ivy, head wrestling coach at Sayreville High in New Jersey. “I’m fine with the singlet, but the fact of the matter is some people are deterred (from competing) by singlets. I understand there are purists that say that if (the singlet) is what keeps you from wrestling, you shouldn’t wrestle anyway. But if we can make our sport grow, why would you not do it? We’re not going to lose kids because of this.”

“I think most coaches will agree, our sport is a numbers game, and we are always looking to improve our numbers,” Monroe High head coach Billy Jacoutot told MyCentralNewJersey.com. “In wrestling, we are always trying to find different ways to get kids interested. If there’s anything to be done to get more bodies in the room, great.”

Susquehanna Township coach Dee Evans pointed out that most sports don’t require revealing uniforms to compete. In talking about the new two-piece wrestling uniforms just approved by the NFHS, Evans told PennLive.com, “That’s for kids who are going through the most changes with their body and how they fit in with their teams. It becomes a big deal for them. Most sports don’t have tight-fitting clothes like wrestling has. This gives us an avenue to something they’d wear in basketball or football.”

Clayton Smith, who has been on the coaching staff at New Jersey’s Mainland Regional High for 15 years, told the Press of Atlantic City that it’s not just upper-weight wrestlers who have complained about how they look in a singlet … but he’s also heard grumbling from lower and middle-weight wrestlers too.

Smith likes that the new two-piece uniform gives off “more of a mixed martial arts look” which could help tie wrestling to the growing popularity of MMA especially among young people.

“That’s how they perceive it,” Smith said. “When that proposal about MMA-style shorts and compression shirts came out, a lot of kids said they would try out if they wore that.”

Even some traditionalists may be coming around to seeing the potential benefits of offering a two-piece wrestling uniform option for those uncomfortable with the idea of pulling on a singlet.

“If you asked me when I first started coaching 11 years ago, I’d say no,” Michael Carbone, head coach at Woodbridge High School, told MyCentralNewJersey.com. “I had a hard line in the sand. It should be a singlet. But the college coaches have tinkered with it, and a lot of the wrestlers that I know, they actually like it. So, in my opinion now, rather than back when I was young and didn’t understand it, whatever is better for the sport, I think we should do. If the two-piece is going to get a kid who is having body-image issues on the mat, I think it’s the right thing to do for that kid. If another kid is built like he is made out of stone and he wants to wear a singlet, then great, carry on.”

Cost may be a challenge

A potential impediment for the two-piece compression-style uniform may be money.

“We’re going to have to look at the cost and see,” said first-year Lower Cape May Regional coach Billy Damiana.

“If it helps grow the sport, I don’t have a complaint,” Damiana told the Press of Atlantic City. “I don’t care about the uniforms, I just want the kids wrestling.”

“My kids are getting excited about it,” Harrisburg High School coach Domineak Commodore told PennLive.com. “The biggest concern I have is the quality of the uniform. Is it going to be more expensive? It’s easy to keep track of 25 singlets, but I have to worry about 50 pieces now.”

Cost may be an issue even with high school wrestling coaches whose athletes had positive feelings after wearing the shirts-and-shorts look at special competitions.

Michael Carty of Florida’s Satellite High School coached an all-star team sponsored by the National Guard at the Disney Duals in 2008. The wrestlers wore a two-piece uniform and loved them.

Carty says he’s “all for the additional option,” telling the Orlando Sentinel that he hopes the uniform rule will be expanded to include modified fight shorts in the future, but for now his team will likely remain in the one-piece singlets.

“We’ve gotten new singlets the last two years,” Carty said. “Tough to justify getting more new ones with the AD, but we might make it a special-order option for the guys.”

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