Several key rules changes have been made to high school wrestling as a result of an effort to accommodate the growing number of girls competing in the sport.
The Wrestling Rules Committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations recommended the changes relating to weigh-in protocal and appropriate hair-length requirements.
“These rule changes are some of the most prolific modifications in the history of high school wrestling,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and liaison to the committee. “The rules committee made necessary, drastic changes to attract more young people to our sport without sacrificing the health and safety of the participants.
The weigh-in procedure was altered through a combination of rule changes.
Rule 4-1-1c was modified and now permits female wrestlers to wear a form-fitted compression shirt the completely covers their breasts, in addition to a one-piece singlet and a suitable undergarment. In addition, Rule 4-5-7 was rewritten to require that a legal uniform be worn during weigh-in and that no additional weight allowance be granted. Shoes and ear guards will be prohibited during weigh-in.
Weighing in with a legal uniform allowed the committee to break down more gender barriers with subsequent changes to rules 4-5-1, 4-5-2 and 4-5-4. Previously, weigh-ins consisted of shoulder-to-shoulder lineups of each contestant that were separated by gender, took place a maximum of one hour before competition and required supervision by a referee of each respective gender.
Now male and female wrestlers are able to weigh in together in the same lineup, allowing gender-specific language to be removed from the three rules. Also, the form-fitting compression shirt offers females a more suitable uniform for post-weigh-in skin checks, which typically are done by male officials.
“The change to the weighing-in process is remarkably timely, as schools have struggled in the past to identify adult females to weigh-in the female wrestlers,” Hopkins said. “This action accommodates transgender children as well; it respects their rights and dignity and addresses any modesty concerns for any affected children.
“We anticipate the entire weight-in process will be expedited and more efficient.”
Significant changes to the hair-length rule, Rule 4-2-1, were also linked to the committee’s focus on inclusion.
Previously, a wrestler’s hair could not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back, below earlobe level on the sides or below the eyebrows in the front. Those confinements, along with the requirement that a hair cover be used for hair that exceeded the limitations, were deleted.
Hopkins said support for the rule change by coaches and officials was generated by an initiative of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, which successfully experimented with relaxed hair restrictions this winter.
“Removing the hair-length rule is a monumental change,” Hopkins said. “It is important to embrace the current culture of young boys and girls who are expressing themselves through their appearance, making this the perfect opportunity to extend wrestling to young people who otherwise would not be attracted to our sport.
“While the hair-length restriction has been removed, the requirement that hair-control devices/treatment items cannot be hard, abrasive or sharp remains. If a hair cover is used, it shall be attached to the ear guards. Additionally, the barring of oils or greasy substances on or in the hair is still in effect.”
In relation to the hair-length change, Rule 5-29-1, which addresses unnecessary roughness, was edited to include pulling an opponent’s hair as an example of the offense.