State wrestling

Jackson’s Tipton Wilson grabs the leg of Worland’s Ross Goncalves during a 126-pound bout at last winter’s state wrestling quarterfinals in Casper. The Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees declined to pause wrestling Wednesday night in the face of concerns about COVID-19.

High school wrestling will go on as planned, as will other winter sports.

At its Wednesday meeting, the Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees considered pausing wrestling because of COVID-19 concerns, but ultimately wasn’t interested in eliminating the afterschool option.

Trustee Kate Mead raised a motion to suspend wrestling until Dec. 15, but she couldn’t garner a second and so the motion did not go to a vote.

“We’re going to continue with winter sports as planned,” Trustee Janine Teske said, “so that all those folks that sent us notes about basketball and so on and so forth understand we are not going to discontinue them.”

The question of whether to pause wrestling was added to the school board’s monthly agenda after public health officials raised concerns about the potential for viral transmission during afterschool activities.

In-school transmission has been low, though Communications Director Charlotte Reynolds said at Wednesday’s meeting that the district is no longer saying that none has occurred because contact tracing is not taking place at a high enough level to say for sure.

State and health officials have worried that precautions taken in classrooms, like mask wearing and social distancing, would be difficult to maintain in close-contact sports like basketball and wrestling.

Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond told the Jackson Hole Daily that cases have been seen in other activities, such as within club sports.

Jackson Hole High School Activities Director Mike Hansen told the board Wednesday that no cases of COVID-19 had been traced back to school-sanctioned fall sports, which operated under similar virus precautions as winter sports will.

Only a few students out of the roughly 300 who played fall sports tested positive for the coronavirus, and none was identified as catching it during sports.

“The number is so incredibly low that I can’t say the number, because it potentially would identify the student or students,” Hansen told the board.

The suite of coronavirus precautions for athletes includes wearing masks during bus rides, a general ban on eating on buses, no overnight stays except for during playoffs, and changes to practices that reduce time students spend in close contact.

For wrestling, coach Ryan Castagno told the board that students work with coaches in pods. At tournaments, which haven’t taken place yet, the brevity of matches means students will not be wrestling at any one time for long enough to be considered close contacts, which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines set at less than 6 feet for at least 15 minutes.

CDC guidance, however, does say that exposure is cumulative over 24 hours, so being in close contact isn’t defined as a single 15-minute period. If a wrestler logs a total of 15 minutes within 6 feet of opponents over the course of a one-day tournament, that could qualify as close contact.

Trustees and administrators framed allowing wrestling and other activities to continue as planned as a decision to keep control over students’ exposure. They reasoned that, because of all the precautions in place during practices and tournaments, wrestling was a better alternative than unstructured afterschool time when kids could mingle without any social distancing.

“If the students are with us,” Hansen said, “and not outside the community, we get to monitor what they’re doing, we get to make sure they’re wearing masks.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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