Toe to Joe with IHSAA Assistant Commissioner Bobby Cox
What do feel the state of wrestling is in the state of Indiana?
Currently our participation numbers are steady. I have not seen a dramatic decrease or increase over the past few years. With that said I have concerns regarding the health and safety of our student athletes and issues related to competition.
What can be improved with the sport of wrestling in the state?
It is my belief that student athletes who participate in wrestling are no different than their counterparts in other sports. Students wish to participate in front of their peers, their parents and fans that support their efforts. All day individual tournaments where the fans and even the participants have little idea of the status of the meet throughout the day do nothing to grow the sport of wrestling. While the notion of a student wrestling 40-50 bouts throughout a season in a collection of individual tournaments may be attractive from an experience and development standpoint, it decreases general interest and attention from the common sports fan. I firmly believe in our society today, if coaches want to increase the numbers of wrestlers on their squads, they have to demonstrate that while wrestling is a very demanding sport, it can be fun and rewarding. Part of that is the concept that those kids will compete in front of a large gathering of fans, parents, classmates and peers and be recognized for their efforts.
What is your athletic background - playing/coaching?
In high school I participated in track and cross country at Carmel High School with moderate success. I continued my running career at Butler University competing in long distance events such as the 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs. I was fortunate to have two outstanding coaches during my running days in Chuck Koeppen at Carmel and Stan Lyons at Butler. I began teaching and coaching in 1979. I taught health, physical education and driver's education and I coached cross country, basketball and track and field. After 11 years in those roles, I became an athletic director. I served as an athletic administrator at the middle school and high school levels for 10 years.
How he became involved with IHSAA?
I was the athletic director at Carmel High School when Bob Gardner announced that he was resigning as Commissioner to become the Chief Operating Officer for the National Federation. Blake Ress was an Assistant Commissioner at the time and was appointed as the new Commissioner in April of 2000. I received an application for the vacated Assistant Commissioner's position and decided that I would apply for the position. Prior to that as the A.D. at Carmel, we hosted the state softball tournament for several years and one year the state cross country meet along with various sectionals and regional events. Through the hosting of those events, I developed some relationships with the staff at the Association and a basic understanding of what the Association was about.
What is the function of IHSAA?
Our purpose as written in our by-laws is to encourage, regulate and give direction to wholesome amateur interschool athletic competition between the schools who are members of the Corporation.
What are your responsibilities with the IHSAA?
My primary responsibilities are the administration of five of the IHSAA's 20 sports. Those sports are football, wrestling, boys' track and field, girls' track and field and boys' golf. Additionally, I rule on approximately 1200 student transfers annually, oversee the insurance programs of the Association, oversee the coach education program for the Association, serve as the staff liaison to the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and sit ex-officio on the Commission on Sports Medicine which is an outreach of the Indiana State Medical Association. I have served a four year term as a member of the NFHS Coach Education Committee and currently sit on the NFHS football rules committee, serving as the Chairman of the Research subcommittee. Finally, anything else the Commissioner deems necessary.
What are your general views on wrestling as a sport (what it teaches kids)?
Of all sports the IHSAA sponsors, I believe that wrestling is the most demanding activity we offer. There is no question as to the value wrestling provides to the students that participate in the sport. All the commonly known attributes such as dedication, hard work, sacrifice, teamwork, mental discipline and physical development are easily observed. Wrestling, not unlike our other sports also provides the opportunity to teach sportsmanship and a sense of fair play. These tenants must stand at the forefront if we are to continue our pursuit of education based athletics.
What are your views on weight management plans since adoption (any bugs to still work out?)?
The IHSAA weight management plan has been in existence now for 10 years. It is hard to believe it has been that long. Generally, I am pleased with the fact we have implemented the program and how it has developed over time. With that being said I believe I need to ramp up my efforts in education for our coaches. Coaching as well as athletic administration experiences a great deal of turnover. I would estimate that over half of the head wrestling coaching positions in our state has changed over the last ten years. That turnover causes a need for focused communication with coaches regarding the provisions of our weight management program. I believe that the vast majority of coaches are making honest efforts to adhere to the principles of the program. I also believe that we still have a few individuals associated with wrestling that see weight management as a nuisance and dismiss it. Those individuals are doing their student athletes a grave disservice and are out of touch with today's sport.
What is the importance of relationship between IHSAA and coach's associations?
With all our coaches' associations, I believe the relationship between the IHSAA and those groups are important. The coaches' associations should be representing the desires of their constituents and have the ability to articulate those aspirations to the IHSAA staff and Executive Committee.
What is in store for the future of high school athletics (pay to play??)?
I have serious concerns regarding the future of education based interscholastic athletics. I phrase it in that manner because I believe that high school athletics will still be around, it just might not be in the style that educators can live with. The budget cuts that school corporations are facing span across all areas of programming and it appears that interscholastic athletics sits squarely in the crosshairs. When programming is cut, that reduces opportunities for young people to gain experiences that might not be enjoyed otherwise. In my opinion, student athletes, parents and coaches along with athletic administrators need to speak loudly and clearly in their local communities to the values of athletics and what those experiences provide outside the traditional classroom. If school boards fail to see the positive values provided by interscholastic athletics, I believe those programs are in jeopardy.
Wrestlebacks: Why do you think the coaches have been pushing so hard for them and what is preventing them from being passed?
My sense is that coaches push for wrestlebacks for a couple of primary reasons. Initially, it is part of the wrestling culture and those matches occur throughout the regular season. Many wrestling coaches would like the IHSAA tournament series to mirror some of those regular season events. Additionally, coaches feel that in some situations, a wrestler could get caught in a move during a bout and lose when in their mind the losing wrestler was really the best wrestler and should have the opportunity to "wrestle back" to a better position. The IHSAA individual tournament series is about determining a state champion in 14 weight classes. Adding wrestlebacks is nothing more than adding matches to an already long program to determine something that is already being determined. When the individual tournament concludes at Conseco on Saturday night, I believe we have accomplished our goal in identifying the best wrestler in 14 weight classes. Finally, wrestlebacks have been proposed on no less than three separate occasions to the Executive Committee and there has been no support from the Committee to entertain this proposal.
What would have to happen for Indiana to sanction women's wrestling like a few other states do?
Our current by-laws require that for a sport to be offered, 50% of the membership must be participating in that sport during the same season and a championship tournament series proposed by the Commissioner. Girls' Wrestling would be the sport and 206 schools would have to field females in their current wrestling programs for there to be any consideration.
Who have been your favorite wrestlers to watch at the state finals?
There have been many. It is always interesting to me to see how kids develop throughout their careers and how they handle success. I really enjoyed watching Alex Tsirtsis from Griffith in how he simply dominated his opponents. I admired Blake Maurer from Evansville Mater Dei not only because of his wrestling prowess but the fact he was a great three sport athlete. I watched him play football and his 4 x 800 meter relay team made the state finals his senior year. Not bad for a 171 pounder. Reece Humphrey from Lawrence North was entertaining and good. His patented back flip after a big victory probably prompted the NFHS wrestling rules committee to outlaw that stunt. Finally I really liked Angel Escobedo from Griffith because he seemed so humble and humility is an endearing trait.
Edited by Y2CJ41