#Wrestling Wednesday: Faulkens opens up about wrestling
By STEVE KRAH
Robert Faulkens is the face of wrestling at the Indiana High School Athletic Association office.
As an assistant commissioner, he administers IHSAA wrestling (as well as football and boys and girls track and field).
Faulkens, who also sits on several National Federation of State High School Associations committees, oversees an annual online rules meeting for IHSAA wrestling officials and coaches.
He also likes to take advantage of face-to-face opportunities, like the recent St. Joseph Valley Officials Association gathering in Granger. There, Faulkens got a chance to address a roomful of mat referees and area coaching staffs.
Faulkens, who defines his job as someone who must be equitable to all 4,000 wrestlers and all 309 programs in Indiana and not just the elite, covered many topics and had a dialogue with those in attendance. Much of the discussion were on areas relating to participation.
â€œWrestlingâ€™s been in a decline for about four or five years,â€ Faulkens said of dropping participation numbers.
He said the only thing propping up participation in Indiana is girls wrestling, which had about 300 competing on boys squads throughout the state last season. Itâ€™s a number too low to make it a separate sport. But if the numbers continue to rise it could happen in the future.
â€œMy guess is weâ€™re eight or 10 years from pulling girls out and making it a separate sport,â€ Faulkens said. â€œthe number of teams that have girls wrestling is very small. There are pockets of girls wrestling (currently, Lafayette Jeff and Crispus Attucks each have more than a dozen girls in their programs). Either you have them or you donâ€™t. Very rarely do you have one girl wrestling. Normally you have four or five.â€
Faulkens sits on the national rules writing committee for the National Federation. The committee met last April and considered and approved a new two-piece uniform with a tight shirt and shorts. The rules regulators at the next level turned down the proposal, saying there was no uniformity in the specifications nor was there time to approve the change by October.
â€œIn April (2017), weâ€™ll probably do it all over again and have to be more specific,â€ Faulkens said. â€œI think weâ€™re about three years away (from the two-piece uniform).â€
Whatâ€™s wrong with the singlet?
â€œKids are not wresting because they are a little bit embarrassed to wear the singlet,â€ Faukens said. â€œParticipation numbers have dropped and thatâ€™s one of the reasons kids have decided they donâ€™t want to wrestle.â€
What are some of the other reasons?
The long weekend events have become a grind to many young athletes.
Faulkens noted that there no joy in spending all day on a Saturday and losing five times and wrestling all of six minutes.
â€œWhy as a high school kid would I give up seven weekends to not have fun?,â€ Faulkens said.
Many schools have schedules made up mostly of Saturday super duals or tournaments. The suggestion has been made from some in Indiana to increase the number of weeknight dual meets.
Another reason is parents donâ€™t want their kids to wrestle because they equate the sport with brawling.
â€œThey see wrestling as MMA or as Ultimate Fight Club,â€ Faulkens said. â€œAs scholastic wrestlers weâ€™re trying to distance ourselves from those two entities because of the negative connotation.â€
Thatâ€™s why he resists calling the lower part of the two-piece uniform â€œfightâ€ shorts.
Faulkens talked about the relationship between football and wrestling â€” a natural partnership in some communities, but not in all places.
He is a fan of multi-sport participation.
â€œThose schools that share kids among sports are normally the ones who are successful over a long period of time,â€ Faulkens said. â€œWe have some hard-headed football coaches that believe a kid should just play football in the fall and lift weights in the winter and spring.
â€œIt goes against everything we know about kids. They need to do different sports at different times of the year. If they do the same thing all the time, they risk burnout and injury. Those two things are not good for any kid.â€
The assistant commissioner noted that 75 percent of the teams in the IHSAA football state championships have athletes who participate in another sport.
At schools where wrestling coaches are having a hard time getting football players (or those specializing in one sport) to join their teams, Faulkens said their must be a conversation between the coach and their athletic director and and principal.
Faulkens pointed out the differences in the gridiron and mat, noting that football is anaerobic and wrestling is aerobic â€œand never the twain shall meet.â€
â€œIf you try to get a kid to go from quick bursts and a lot of rest to a sport thatâ€™s a continual expenditure of energy, itâ€™s very difficult,â€ Faulkens said. â€œWrestling is not an easy sport. Weâ€™ve got a group of kids that donâ€™t want to work that hard. They really donâ€™t. Theyâ€™re going to take the path of least resistance. Itâ€™s just the mindset of our kids.â€
While many will argue that more mat time is always a good thing, Faulkens sees a trend coming from his involvement with the National Federationâ€™s sports medicine advisory committee that calls for a reduction in the number of matches.
â€œWhat we know is that at a certain point, thereâ€™s no return on improvement,â€ Faulkens said. â€œItâ€™s likely that in a few years the maximum number of regular-season matches allowed per wrestler will be 25.â€
This will mean an adjustment in how schedules are made. There may not be as many two-day super duals with teams competing eight to 10 times in a weekend, knowing that they may be getting close to the maximum in a very short time period.
A point of emphasis for Faulkens at each online rules meeting is the importance of being vigilant against infectious skin diseases.
â€œDonâ€™t share razors or soap and wash yourself everyday and wash your mats,â€ Faulkens said.
Faulkens said showering after each practice and competition is suggested. But if coaches canâ€™t enforce that they should at least have a bucket of antibacterial wipes for exposed skin when wrestlers get off the mat.
Ideally, checking for skin lesions would be a daily occurrence, but every athlete should be checked at least once a week.
A year ago, Faulkens said 70 schools had cases of infectious skin disease on their teams and five schools reported five or more cases.
â€œParents are not going to stand for it,â€ Faulkens said. â€œIf you get a MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection) in your room, thatâ€™s going to cost the parents $40,000. If they donâ€™t have insurance, chances are they are not going to get the treatment that they need.â€
Faulkens notes that though he may come across as harsh when making his points about matters like this and with the proper administration of the weight management system (he got the athletic directors and athletic trainers involved four years ago), thereâ€™s a method to his madness.
â€œWe canâ€™t lose wrestling because we canâ€™t lose the lessons that wrestling gives us,â€ Faulkens said. â€œAs coaches, you are in control of that.â€
As for the state of the sport as Faulkens heads into his seventh state tournament series, he likes what he sees.
â€œWeâ€™re in good shape,â€ Faulkens said. â€œI love where weâ€™re are in wrestling in the state of Indiana. I really do.
â€œMy job is to do whatâ€™s best for everybody.â€