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Murph’s Turf: Snowstorm robs wrestlers of conference moment

Team scores and records are part of the setting, but wrestling, at its core, is among the most individual of sports. The cheers and encouragement of teammates may provide a motivational backdrop, but once on the mat it is just you and your opponent, locked in a physically and psychically exhausting struggle of strategies, skill and gumption. The faint of heart? They don’t last long.

At the high school level, the strong individual component of wrestling is apparent in the post-season. A squad rich in standouts but lacking depth may be thoroughly mediocre during the regular season and then, presto, a force in the conference and state championships — meets that bestow team points on individual success.

But that dynamic, the pursuit of individual titles that aid teams, won’t be as evident this year, now that the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference opted to make ignominious history earlier this week by canceling its wrestling tournament for the first time ever. After initially postponing the event from its originally scheduled Friday-Saturday slot due to Snowstorm Nemo’s bark, league organizers called the tournament off when the bite persevered and made the Monday-Tuesday rescheduling unfeasible.

A Tuesday-Wednesday timeline was ruled out because coaches wanted their wrestlers to have more than one day off before the start of the state class championships on Friday.

Somewhat surprisingly, the FCIAC is taking little heat for its cancellation policy. There was more outrage last fall, when Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy’s wrath led to a truncating of the conference soccer, field hockey and girls volleyball tournaments and yielded co-champions after the semifinal round.

But having played two rounds, those tournaments at least got into the club; the FCIAC wrestling championship didn’t even make it up to the velvet rope.

Part of the non-furor is due to the company the FCIAC is keeping: Nearly every other conference in the state also postponed and then canceled its wrestling tournaments. Still, the strength in numbers doesn’t fully compensate for a nagging sense that there was a weakness in effort.

The FCIAC’s decision to trim the field to the top-eight wrestlers in each weight division (based on regular-season records) for the Monday-Tuesday rescheduling made sense because the meet would have taken place on two school days rather than a weekend. But why not do some further whittling and have just the top-four seeds in each class compete in a one-day conference championship on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week? Surely those wrestlers would be good enough to return for the preliminary round of the state meets on Friday, when many of them would have byes anyway.

And when nearly all conferences chose to cancel their tournaments because of the tight turnaround with state meets, couldn’t that have been a distress signal prompting the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state’s governing body, to get involved and perhaps reschedule the state class meets? Aren’t there contingency plans in place for this kind of snow event in mid-February? The prevailing belief has long been that the CIAC doesn’t go out of its way to help conference championships, and this week’s events will do little to assuage that mindset.

Nor will they do much to soothe the people who devote the time, effort and discipline necessary to succeed in a demanding sport: The wrestlers themselves. Across the state, there are high school seniors whose primary goals included winning a division title at their conference meets. Sure, they will still have a chance to win at states, but for some a conference championship is more of a goal because it comes against truer rivals — opponents they have been facing for several years and may not compete against at state meets.

Those seniors didn’t have a say in the cancellation decision, and now they won’t have a chance to end their careers as conference champs. The history they will be linked with involves a significant first, just not the one they were working toward.

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