Carson Roberts joined the North Farmington wrestling team as a junior by the recommendation of his football coaches. But in only one season with the Raiders on the mat, he learned to love the sport: the competitiveness, the focus not only on strength, but technique.
Heading into 2021, he was excited for the opportunity to improve, to continue to be a leader and promoter of the sport he quickly fell in love with.
For Roberts, the two other seniors on North Farmington’s team and all the wrestlers throughout Farmington Public Schools, they will not get the chance.
Farmington Public Schools announced Wednesday in an email to athletes and parents that it will not be offering wrestling in the 2021 winter season at any of its middle schools or high schools due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This really, really sucks,” Roberts said. “I really wanted to go back and wrestle this year. It was kind of just taken right out underneath me.”
Farmington Public Schools Athletic Director Jon Manier said the difference between wrestling and other sports offered is the consistent close contact in order to practice the sport itself.
“One of the concerns was despite our safety measures — let’s say mask-wearing as an example — it’s very hard in that kind of close contact to ensure that would be consistently applied,” Manier said. “Not that the athletes or the coaches wouldn’t be willing to do it, it’s the nature of the sport.
“I don’t know if there’s another sport that encourages or requires hand-to-face contact as wrestling does, or face-to-face contact even.”
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North Farmington head wrestling coach Robert Mathieson realizes no sport or in-person activity is entirely safe at this point. He knows the risks associated with wrestling, but he also feels those risks are no different than any other contact sport.
He said, with the guidelines put in place — only holding dual meets and wrestlers facing only three other competitors, along with face mask rules and mandates — wrestling was as safe as it could be.
Mathieson compared it to basketball, watching as 20-plus players switch in and out of the game, bump into each other, contacting a number of players throughout the process.
“I feel perhaps it was a bit of a fear-based decision rather than a solution-based decision,” Mathieson said.
Manier said there is a continued analysis of all extra-curricular activities in terms of their safety during the pandemic, conferring with building administration, departmental or athletic leadership, and the District Wellness Committee made up of a variety of representatives throughout the school district.
Prior to the announcement, Manier said he spoke personally to every wrestling head coach at the middle school level, and to every assistant and head coach at both Farmington and North Farmington about the decision.
“I can’t say any of them were appreciative, all willing to consider the district’s position, all very professional, but certainly disappointed for their student athletes as well as themselves because they enjoy what they do,” Manier said.
While Mathieson understands the decision and does not fault the district for making it, he is still looking for reasoning as to why Farmington Public Schools made the decision ahead of the Michigan High School Athletic Association and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“It sounds like they just kind of said, ‘Well, we think it’s too risky,’” Mathieson said. “I respect the decision and that point, but I feel like the coaches were a bit left out of the conversation.”
Through the uncertainty of COVID-19, Chris Roberts watched his two sons sit idle ahead of their winter seasons — the other a hockey player for Farmington United.
While he knows the severity of the pandemic and the personal risks it takes for him, Chris Roberts sees a difference between the sport his son Carson plays in the fall than his adopted winter activity.
“Having just come from football, I understand that the other sports feel that they are secondary sports,” Chris Roberts said. “You are sitting there going, ‘OK, is my kid ever going to get the chance to do what he loves to do?’”
Manier said he hopes to be able to open wrestling rooms in the next few months for open mats, but said he is making parents and wrestlers aware of options outside of the high school level.
However, Mathieson knows that for some members of his team, club teams and independent tournaments may not be financially feasible. Instead, he hopes to get approval to distribute some of his personal wrestling mats to players to practice and train at home.
Manier also made clear that this is no indication of the direction the MHSAA is heading regarding wrestling.
“It’s never easy to limit a student-athlete’s opportunities,” Manier said. “I don’t think anyone feels genuinely good about it. But we have to take and consider health and safety first and foremost, not that it isn’t in other times. But these are unique times and they are forcing us to consider things we have not considered before.”
All Carson Roberts wants is a chance to do what he loves to do, however that may look during the pandemic.
“I hope that the three seniors, including me, get to wrestle just one more time before they have to go off to college or go to the next step of their life,” he said.
Contact reporter Colin Gay at [email protected] or 248-330-6710. Follow him on Twitter @ColinGay17. Send game results and stats to [email protected].