Viral video of this NJ wrestler teaches local lessons, provokes discussions on DFW mats
When a wrestler from Buena Regional High School in New Jersey was given the ultimatum to either cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his 120-pound match in mid-December, it sparked a controversy which many in the local wrestling community don’t see as a controversy at all.
Wrestlers with longer hair have, for years, been using trainers’ scissors to snip away at their locks to accommodate the rules on hair appearance.
But the increased preference for dreadlocks has pushed the issue to a heightened position of discussion.
If anything, the viral video of the New Jersey wrestler created a renewed focus on consistency in applying the rule pertaining to a wrestler’s hair. That rule is clearly stated in the National Federation of State High School Associations rule book.
Rule 4-2-1 cites that hair in its natural state “shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back; and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level; in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows…If an individual has hair longer than allowed by rule, it may be braided or rolled if it s contained in a cover so that the hair rule is satisfied. The legal hair cover shall be attached to the ear guards.”
Because the rules don’t specifically reference hair styles such as dreadlocks or twisted hair, some critics contend that African-American wrestlers are being singled-out.
But an outcry of racial injustice isn’t supported by a sampling of North Texas coaches and wrestlers.
For Midlothian senior Jeremiah Cox, the video hasn’t spurred a discussion of racial inequality.
Cox, who has dreads which by length alone require a hair cover, said he’s more concerned about defining the need for covering a hair style which isn’t abrasive.
“They shouldn’t have to cover up their dreads. It’s not abrasive. It doesn’t cut up their faces. I ask my wrestling partner if it cuts up his face and he said it doesn’t,” Cox said.
Further, the discussion of the hair style not being in its ‘natural state’ is debatable, according to Cox.
“Once they get to this point, it is in its natural state,” Cox said of the dreadlocks he’s had for about three years. “I can’t take them out. It wasn’t natural at first, but I made it natural.”
But Cox hasn’t bucked the system – or rule book. He said he’s aware of the rule and abides by it. He noted his coach has always informed the team of the rules.
Coaches across the area in concert with the Texas Wrestling Officials Association, work each year to educate and interpret the rules, especially as changes and tweaks to the rules are made.
In fact, it was just two years ago that the modification to the rules included making it mandatory the hair cover must attach directly to the head gear.
It was this change to the rule which the New Jersey wrestler seemingly had neglected to implement. That forced him to either come up with another attachable head cover, cut his hair to regulation length or forfeit his match.
“Every year, we as coaches have to understand the rules and expectations,” said Midlothian head wrestling coach Kevin Reed. “After a few events, we’re all on the same page. I tell my kids – both boys and girls – to have a (hair) cap at weigh-ins and if you don’t have to have it, fine. I remind them the ref is in charge. We don’t spend a lot of time arguing about it.”
This rule by the NFHS rule book has been applied to boys’ hair, while the addition of girls wrestling in Texas prompted the UIL to formulate guidelines specific to girls.
Pony tails of a maximum length are permitted or otherwise require a hair cover connected to the head gear.
Still, coaches and wrestlers haven’t been incensed about the video of the New Jersey wrestler.
“It wasn’t a big deal with them,” Reed said. “They asked me about it. Kids have social media and see it fast. They asked me what would I do.”
Reed said his response would be to address the issue with the referee in private, not in front of his team.
“I would not have had him cut his hair,” he said of the New Jersey wrestler. “I would have gotten his parents involved.”
The coach also reminds his athletes that the ref is in charge at an event. “We don’t spend a lot of time arguing,” Reed said.
“I tell them to bring it (their hair cover) anyway. It’s not a big issue and if they do make it a big issue, you’re not wrestling,” Reed added.
Cox’s expectations were consistent with his coach’s teachings.
In referencing the mat-side haircut, Cox said, “His coach shouldn’t have let the kid do that. My coach wouldn’t make me cut off my hair. He’d sit me out of that tournament.”