Ketchikan High School wrestling head coach Rick Collins has taught for nearly 30 years — and he’s coached for even longer — but he’s never experienced anything quite like this season.
“This whole year — both from an education standpoint, and sports standpoint — is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. ... (But) it’s still been good.
“It’s been good in the classroom, and from a wrestling standpoint,” he continued. “I’m just thankful that we’re getting to wrestle, somehow, some way. It’s not a normal season — it’s not even close. But it’s still wrestling.”
Indeed, there is still wrestling. For about a month, the Kayhi grapplers have been hitting the mat.
Moved from their typical fall and winter season, due to the novel coronavirus, the wrestlers are in the midst of a quick snap, five-week season.
After a pair of trips to Juneau and Wrangell — with some victories tallied along the way — Kayhi will host the Division II regional meet on Friday, and the Bill Weiss tournament on Saturday.
The Division II regional meet was originally scheduled for May 7-8 in Sitka — along with the Division I regional meet — but that same weekend is Mt. Edgecumbe High School’s graduation. That, along with Alaska Airlines not running as many flights throughout Southeast, hampered Sitka’s ability to host regions this year.
The upshot is that Kayhi will host the small schools’ and girls’ regional meet on Friday — bumping the Bill Weiss tournament to a one-day event on Saturday.
Kayhi and Juneau — the only Division I wrestling teams in Southeast — are scheduled to have a regional meet on May 12.
“The Bill Weiss was supposed to be both days, originally,” Collins said. “... (But) because of the graduation, and because of the airline fiasco, they ended up having to change the events around. So they’re pushing it ahead, and we’re having it.”
Wrestling teams from Haines, Petersburg, Wrangell, Craig, Klawock, Mt. Edgecumbe and Sitka high schools will be in town and compete.
Matches for the Division II region meet will begin at 11:15 a.m., and run throughout the day at Kayhi.
Kayhi boys’ team won’t wrestle until Saturday’s Bill Weiss event.
“It’s just going to be the D-II kids,” Collins said of Friday’s competition. “They’ll have an eight-man bracket, and they’ll go through, and their top two (or three) guys go to state.”
In addition to boys’ wrestlers from Division II, girls’ wrestlers from Southeast also will vye for a chance at state on Friday.
Kayhi freshman Julia Biagi will be the only Ketchikan wrestler competing. Biagi, the lone girls’ wrestler for Kayhi this season, is undefeated.
“Julia is solid,” Collins said. “She’s got that Biagi strength, and she’s talented.”
The majority of Kayhi’s girls’ wrestlers from previous seasons are playing spring sports. Several boys’ wrestlers also are playing spring sports, and pulling double duty for Kayhi athletics.
“I believe in playing other sports,” Collins said. “... So the heart of my varsity roster is also playing soccer at the same time. So they leave wrestling practice early every day, and head off to soccer.”
The same can be said for his girls’ wrestlers. Between softball, soccer and track and field, Kayhi’s wrestling roster has dropped a bit.
“We have number of other kids who are doing other sports — and I get that,” Collins said. “We’re in the middle of their traditional softball, baseball, or soccer seasons. And if you’re used to playing softball every spring, and getting outside in the fresh air, or playing soccer, it’s pretty tough to ask a kid to come in the gym — especially with a grind, like a sport like wrestling.
“You just kind of get beat down, and it’s dark in a gym,” he continued. “It feels like December in there. I mean, it’s no different.”
That said, every Southeast wrestling squad is down.
“We’re not the only team that’s about at half capacity or less,” Collins said. “... Sitka only has about eight (or nine) kids. ... Petersburg is down. Kids are just doing other sports — other spring sports. ... So the number of matches that these kids can get, and the number of opponents, is really tough this year, as well.”
But that’s understandable, given the circumstances.
“I’m especially sensitive to the fact that we’re moved into their (spring sport) season,” Collins said.
Saturday’s action will run from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Collins is aware Kayhi’s prom is Saturday night, and he wants to give everyone a chance to get ready.
“It’s just going to be a sprint,” he said.
COVID tests required
Teams are required to get tested for the novel coronavirus before traveling, and up until this weekend, wrestlers would wear facial masks during matches.
This weekend will be the first weekend where wearing masks is optional for wrestlers while they’re wrestling — because of the required testing before a team travels.
“I’m (still) requiring my kids to practice with (masks),” Collins said. “Because the whole point — from a competitive standpoint, we don’t want half our team in quarantine. From a community standpoint, we want to try to limit the spread as much as we can, and do our part.
“So we’re doing mandatory testing now, which is good. It’s proactive.”
Few spectators allowed
Wrestlers are allowed two tickets per person, similar to the Kayhi basketball season.
Facial masks will be required for all spectators.
Kayhi will honor its four seniors — Andy Collins, Charlie Blair, Jaden Stern and Herbert Dowhit — about 1 p.m. on Saturday.