Kennedy Wrestling Team Grapples With COVID-19

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Kennedy wrestling is prepared to hit the mat at the state meet.

James Belding, Writer

The stands in the Kennedy High School gym sit quiet while the wrestling team plays. 

Unlike previous years, spectators were banned as part of the precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19. The team has faced a myriad of struggles during the 2021 season as they dealt with the risk of catching the virus. The wrestling team also completes daily COVID-19 screenings and players wear masks as often as possible.

The 2021 season opened with a challenge when the first two weeks of practice were shut down due to concerns about COVID-19.

“It was hard because it was a local decision and I knew while we were shut down there were other teams in the state practicing and competing,” Nicholas LeClere, Boys Wrestling coach at Kennedy, said.

Cleaning the wrestling mats is an important part of keeping the wrestlers safe even when there isn’t a pandemic. Because wrestling is a close contact sport a common concern is the chance of contracting COVID-19. As a result the team has had to deal with recruitment problems this season.

“I know there are a handful of athletes out there who wanted to give wrestling a try but they decided not to due to the risk of COVID-19 or because I was not able to connect with them within the school in the halls,” LeClere said.

Some wrestlers’ concerns extend beyond just the risk of infection. For the players the chance to compete is at risk just as much as their health.

“Since the season was delayed due to COVID-19 if you have or been exposed your season is basically over and there’s not much you can do about it,” Gunner Sparks, jr., said.

Just like the rest of the student body, the wrestling team has had to distance themselves to keep safe. When a player contracts COVID-19, they must quarantine for two weeks. This stops players from being able to practice and compete for that time.

“It is more of a sacrifice than any other year.  Especially as we are getting closer to the postseason, the wrestlers are going to have to realize that if they want to finish out the year they may have to live in a tighter bubble,”  LeClere said. “That is a sacrifice that is hard for kids, not being able to hangout with their friends like normal.  We have dealt with that by just trying to remind them to stay focused on the goal in front of them in the sport.

Despite the added stress and restrictions, LeClere’s passion as a wrestling coach has not waned. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified LeClere’s deep love for wrestling and the opportunity to coach.

“Nothing humbles you more and teaches more life lessons than wrestling,” LeClere said. “It develops a sense of work ethic and achievement like no other sport I have been a part of. You truly get what you put into it and you cannot take credit for wins and hide from loses like you can in some team sports.  I love working with the wrestlers as they experience those moments individually.

Even amid the pressures of COVID-19, the team’s support for each other has remained strong. The team has built solidarity through their struggles and their commitment to each other remains unwavering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I knew that no matter what the outcome of my match was, the guys that I workout with everyday who I bleed and sweat and push my body and mind to it’s limit that at the end of the day wrestling made that team like a brotherhood,” Sparks said. “We all care for each other and push each other to make us better wrestlers.” 

The wrestling team’s work brought them to the state competitions. Eight Kennedy wrestlers competed in the first round. Cael Long, sr., Colin Falck, fr., Divion Ocheltree, sr., Colin Flannagan, jr., Cael Knox, sr., and Gavin Bascom, sr. will move on to the second round that started at 9 a.m. today. Check back later for updates.