By Vern Hee
TONOPAH — It was all set to be closed down for the season.
Practices were cancelled along with the first match. And the team had been dismantled.
Many of the Muckers wrestlers had already accepted the team’s fate and started playing basketball, instead. For all intensive purposes, the program was gone.
Then like an eleventh hour reprieve, the unexpected happened. Dale Norton, Nye County superintendent, found a way to keep the wrestlers going at Tonopah High School.
The reprieve was so sudden that Wade Ayers, an assistant wrestling coach, was still trying to get a phone call into Duffy Otteson, head Tonopah wrestling coach to give him the news as of Monday afternoon.
“All this happened over the weekend after conversations with Norton. What this means is Mr. Norton is sticking his neck out for us. And we have to have the numbers next year, which stands at 10 students. Norton said he will look at these numbers for next year. The minimum number could go down. If we do not recruit enough wrestlers next year, then we will not have a discussion about it, the program will be cut,” said Ayers.
Ayers said the program will try to get back on its feet with at least three confirmed wrestlers and maybe three more coming back. The problem is that some of the wrestlers who were on the team might have already gone to basketball.
The numbers are set by the district at 10 wrestlers by Athletics NCSD Policy 7477, but this season Norton is letting the team go with whatever number they come up with. At the moment that number is somewhere from three to seven wrestlers.
It is not really known what Norton and Ayers said to each other but Norton released a statement on Monday which confirms what Ayers said.
The press release said that Norton spoke with the coach over the weekend to discuss an alternative plan for wrestling. Norton said though that the assistant had no alternative plan but just wanted Norton to hear his plea.
After hearing Ayers, the superintendent came up with the probationary status for the team. The probationary status means that Otteson would have a year to meet the current wrestling number which is 10 athletes.
Along with the numbers, the policy also stipulates that they must have these numbers five days prior to the first contest. That is what triggered the shut down because when Alvin Eiseman, THS principal, visited the team he said they did not have 10, only six.
Next season THS must have a minimum of 10 participants for the first day of practice. All participants must be eligible, injury free, and have met all the NCSD/NIAA physical, insurance, and sports application process clearance prior to the first day of practice.
If there are not 10 cleared, then no season. He said there would not be a second year of probation.
Also in his press release, Norton said he will also request a re-visit of NCSD Policy 7477 for the policy committee review in February. In this review, he wants the committee to discuss the possibility of adding the ability to request a year of probationary status to the policy, the minimum participant numbers for all activities and probationary status requests by schools.
Duffy Otteson, head coach of the Tonopah wrestling program, was taken by surprise by the decision. He said he learned of the news on Sunday evening.
“I was just informed yesterday, or last night and I did not know anything about it. I feel good. It is all about the kids. I want the kids to be able to do something. If they are not playing sports then they are doing something else. I don’t know how many kids we are going to have now. Some of them are playing basketball. I have not been able to get a hold of some of them so we will see how many kids we will get now. We will see how it turns out,” he said.
Otteson plans on doing much of the same to recruit new wrestlers. He said much of the problem he has stems from the lack of a middle school program.
The coach currently runs a junior wrestling program of about 148 wrestlers. This program runs in the off season because he can not run both programs at the same time. The junior program is similar to what Pahrump does with Power House Wrestling.
“I got probably 10 middle school kids. All my wrestlers are just tiny kids moving their way up. In middle school there is not much interest there because there is no coach,” said Otteson.
The first match for the Muckers will be this weekend against Carlin.
This decision by Norton to go with a probationary status for the Muckers might save other programs in Nye County facing a similar fate.