Norwood High School junior Jarret Sinks would have started wrestling practice in November during a normal year. That’s about the time he’d certify his weight and prepare for the tournaments that he and his team travel to in Moab, Grand Junction and Vernal, Utah, among others.
But COVID-19 and its restrictions have changed all of that, and Sinks, who qualified for the state tournament in both his freshman and sophomore years (and also took a fourth in the latter), is wondering what’s going to happen to his wrestling dreams.
The Norwood team began practicing in January after getting approval from the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), but one positive COVID-19 case on the team shut wrestling down for a week.
Now, Sinks is worried that if San Miguel County moves to Level Red again, the timing could negatively affect his regional tournament and ruin his chances of returning to the state tournament for a third time.
His first two years, he wrestled at 106 pounds. Now, at 135 pounds, he’s planning to cut to 120 pounds, and he wants to finish better than fourth at state this year.
The wrestling season has already been made shorter by CHSAA. With just seven weeks, wrestlers are limited to 20 matches total. For regionals, instead of four people advancing in each weight, only two will move on to state.
Rather than the buzz of the massive Pepsi Center in Denver, wrestlers will be split up by class division in different locations to adhere to the pandemic restrictions. They’ll also only get one day of state wrestling, rather than three, in an eight-man bracket.
“I still have hope for regionals and state,” he said. “I want to keep being positive and stay following the rules for this to hopefully pass over. I know it’s annoying, but you have to keep doing it.”
Still, he said it’s hard to watch other schools with more lenient restrictions carry on and participate when his team is not permitted. Some Colorado wrestlers are competing in Utah — something really hard for Sinks to witness and not be able to do.
“We are just sitting here with our hands in our pockets trying to get ready for it,” he said.
He knows group travel on a bus could look different this year. Different schools have their own rules for masks and spectators, too. He also knows that his parents will likely not get to watch him wrestle in-person for much of the season. Perhaps his teammates will stream his matches live on Facebook, so his extended family can see.
The pandemic and the loss he’s experiencing seem to have shaped his ideas on what it means to be a high school athlete. For him, he said sports help with the qualities of respect and motivation. He said sports are such a big reason for some to stay in school and to put forth effort. He said he’s seen friends give up altogether, because they are prohibited from playing and practicing their sport during this time.
“I want every kid to have an opportunity to do what they love and want to do,” he said.
No doubt, Sinks and his fellow wrestlers will be holding their breath while closely watching the county’s virus metrics. How the next few weeks play out will affect Sinks’ wrestling career and determine whether he’s able to realize his dreams on the mat.