Wrestling season on hold for a week

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

By Jeff Budlong and Matt Steichen, staff writers

High school wrestling has been suspended across Minnesota because 24 cases of herpes gladiatorum have been reported by 10 teams.

At least two of the 24 cases belong to Albert Lea wrestlers.

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Austin High School wrestling coach Bill Kinney confirmed that two cases were members of the Albert Lea wrestling team that took on the Packers last Thursday at Ove Berven Gymnasium in Austin.

&8220;Their heavyweight that wrestled against Matt Edgar had it earlier in the year and is just getting over it. He had a mask on just to make sure there wasn&8217;t contact,&8221; Kinney said. &8220;Our team hasn&8217;t had anything like this in the 13 years I&8217;ve been here.&8221;

Albert Lea High School Athletic Director Clay Anderson said though wrestlers had herpes, they had been treated and cleared to wrestle. He said the mask was a precaution in case the symptoms returned.

State officials first became aware of the outbreak after The Clash Tournament took place in Rochester in December. The Albert Lea wrestling team took part in the two-day tournament.

Tigers head coach Larry Goodnature said his team doesn&8217;t currently exhibit any herpes symptoms.

&8220;We do not have any problems right now,&8221; Goodnature said. &8220;We had a couple come up right after The Clash, but nothing for several weeks.&8221;

The virus, nonetheless, remains in the body indefinitely.

Herpes gladiatorum is a skin infection due to herpes simplex virus type 1, the same strain that causes cold sores. Symptoms have included lesions on the face, head and neck of wrestlers. The 24 clinically confirmed cases of herpes gladiatorum involve mostly the weight classes of 285, 215 and 189.

The league banned competitions and direct contact between wrestlers in practice until Tuesday.

They can wrestle again on Wednesday. Dr. B.J. Anderson, a former wrestler who acts as a health adviser to the league, said he didn&8217;t think an extension would be needed.

The suspension is meant to control the current outbreak, allow time to diagnose new cases and prevent disqualifications at the state tournament, scheduled for Feb. 28-March 3.

The current outbreak has not impacted wrestlers at New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and United South Central.

The Tigers were scheduled to wrestle Mankato East Thursday in Albert Lea, however, that dual has now been moved to Feb. 13. NRHEG had a triangular at Hayfield Friday and a tournament at Wabasha Saturday. USC was scheduled for a home triangular Thursday with Madelia and a dual with Southland Feb. 6.

&8220;I have talked with their athletic director and our intent is to reschedule,&8221; NRHEG head coach Paul Cyr said.

Neither Cyr nor USC head coach Eric Wegner said they have come in contact with any teams that have had skin problems which were out of the ordinary.

Herpes gladiatorum needs a warm moist area to survive making wrestling a sport where it can be transmitted through body-to-body contact or from the mat to the wrestler.

&8220;It is a very common kind of herpes that is in the same group as cold sores and shingles among others,&8221; said Dr. James Ott who practices family medicine at the Albert Lea Medical Center. &8220;It can begin with flu-like symptoms with red lesions and blisters developing that can be painful or not.&8221;

Ott said that 85 percent of the population has had some form of the herpes simplex virus type 1 and that 15 percent will have a reoccurrence during their lifetime. Symptoms can typically be treated through oral medication or a medication applied topically.

All three coaches agreed that they had never seen a statewide suspension of the sport during their coaching tenures.

&8220;There have been a couple of kids that were held out of a couple of tournaments we have been to, but it has been the same as any other year,&8221; Cyr said. &8220;Last weekend, we had a couple of kids that probably could have gotten past skin check, but we chose to hold them out. We just wanted to be safe and now we don&8217;t have any problems.&8221;

The suspension of the season comes as teams are preparing for sections and the state tournament, which begin in mid-February and run through the beginning of March, but it was a move that had to be made according to Cyr.

&8220;The league handled it in a positive fashion and to me it is not a huge deal,&8221; he said. &8220;Some people will do anything to get a win so it was a step that needed to be taken and must be followed.&8221;

Wegner also agreed it is a move that needed to be made for the good of the sport, but he hopes that coaches will be responsible enough to follow it.

&8220;There is a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone is following this,&8221; Wegner said.

&8220;There is always that 1 of 2 percent that will do anything to try to win.

&8220;This is something that needs to be dealt with because it could hurt our sport especially at the younger level. Parents see something like this and they may decide to pull their kid out of the sport.&8221;

Goodnature, who has the Tigers&8217; wrestling room disinfected twice a day, said there have been skin problems before and this one will pass like the others.

&8220;We need to take all of the 3 and follow the League&8217;s advice, but I don&8217;t see it as a major problem,&8221; he said.

During the suspension wrestling practice will consist mainly of conditioning through running and weightlifting since no physical contact between wrestlers can take place.

A similar outbreak occurred here in 1999, affecting 63 wrestlers and disqualifying several of them from the state tournament, Anderson said. Anderson said he knew of outbreaks in recent years in Maine, Oregon and Washington state.

&8212; The Associated Press contributed to this report.