Two Pieces Okayed

August 7, 2017

This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Athletic Management.

As part of an effort to improve participation in wrestling, the NFHS has made a major change in the sport. Starting this year, high school wrestlers will be allowed to wear two-piece uniforms instead of singlets.

According to Elliot Hopkins, NFHS Director of Sports, Sanctioning, and Student Services, who also serves as Wrestling Rules Editor and National Rules Interpreter, participation has dropped by 20,000 athletes over the past several years. Many feel that the singlet is one cause.

“We did a membership questionnaire on the topic of two-piece uniforms,” says Hopkins. “We found that some coaches would like to have an alternative for young people who might have body image issues or who just don’t want to wear something as exposing as the singlet.

“The wrestling association in Kentucky also did an experiment allowing their high school athletes to wear two-pieces for a year,” he continues. “All of the reports and data showed that people were interested in this option.”

While the NCAA altered its rules to allow two-piece uniforms in college wrestling more than a decade ago, reaction to the change at the high school level has been heated. “I’m getting a lot of calls,” says Hopkins. “It’s a buzz because wrestling is so traditional. Some people are vehemently against it because they’re purists, and I can appreciate that. Others just say, ‘Hey, let’s do whatever it takes to keep kids in wrestling and get more kids in the wrestling room.’”

It is up to individual schools and coaches whether to offer the new clothing option, and some have stated they will not. “No, we are not planning on using the two-piece uniform,” Jim Forbes, Head Wrestling Coach at Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High School, told the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s just one more item of clothing for our kids to lose or forget. And, I am a little old school, I like the singlet. This is not basketball.”

From a rules perspective, Hopkins says the main challenge is the possibility of wrestlers getting their fingers caught in the extra fabric. However, most athletes already have experience wrestling in a two-piece. “Nobody is practicing in the singlet,” says Hopkins. “And when kids finish the high school season, they wrestle in events and for programs that already use the two-piece. So this is not new for them. It’s just a new twist for high schools.”

For Jack Holloway, a member of the NFHS wrestling rules committee who served as Head Wrestling Coach at William Penn High School in New Castle, Del., for 25 years and is currently Athletic Director at Tower Hill School in Wilmington, Del., the decision will be made by his coach. “My coach and I talked last year when the NFHS let it be known that this change might be coming,” says Holloway. “We discussed the options, and I told him to think about it. He is gathering his thoughts and talking to his team.”

Like many schools, Tower Hill purchases new uniforms for teams every four to five years. “Wrestling was up for new uniforms last year, but we put it off to see what would happen with this ruling,” Holloway says. “Our coach knows that if we make the move to two-piece uniforms, he is going to be living with it for several years. We’re not going to buy these uniforms, and then buy new ones next year.”

What if a coach decides to stick with the singlet and one athlete would prefer the two-piece uniform? “If a young man or woman really wants to wrestle and they feel more comfortable in a two-piece, then they need to have a conversation involving the coach and their parents,” Hopkins says.

Specifications for the two-piece uniform include the following:

> Tops must be a tight compression shirt with a minimum of a three-inch tail and sleeves that do not cover or extend below the elbow.

> Shorts must have a minimum of a four-inch inseam that does not extend below the knee, as well as a drawstring that is not exposed. They cannot have any pockets, buttons, zippers, or Velcro exposed on the outside.

Otherwise, the rules allow for several options. “You can have just a singlet, a singlet with a compression shirt, or a singlet with tights,” says Hopkins. “With a two-piece, you can have compression shorts or tights underneath the shorts. Or, you can have compression shorts underneath the singlet.”

Holloway believes the new uniforms may also help the sport appeal to more female participants. Previously, singlets for girls were already cut higher under the arms, but this allows further options. “If they want added protection, they can wear a compression garment underneath the singlet,” says Holloway. “Before, you needed special permission. I think that aspect of the change is very positive.”

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