Area resident Jeremy Baker discusses the fight among the wrestling community for their children’s dreams
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com
Wrestling in Clark County is on a precipice. Most of the county is not aware of the struggle that is currently being waged in our county, but to be sure, for many in this county the next few weeks will determine whether the children who have chosen this sport to pour themselves into will be able to achieve their dreams or if our politicians and bureaucracy will be allowed to crush their dreams. Our story starts three weeks ago and only our efforts in the weeks to come will determine what the state of wrestling will be in the county for the coming year. Will it be one of champions with head and hands held high? Or it will be another year of our discouraged youth wallowing in their lack of purpose and direction.
Three weeks ago, on Dec. 4, the winter sport season commenced, and our high school athletes were finally competing. The prior season had been disrupted because of COVID and our government’s response. Dec. 4 was a weekend of hope that our lives were finally getting back to normal. The youth of our county had been working and practicing hard and were anxious to compete in the sports they loved. The children were once again allowed to pursue their dreams, and this weekend served as a great example that their efforts determined their results.
The following weekend additional tournaments and competitions were held, and life seemed to be transitioning into our past rhythms. Unfortunately, it was to be short lived for as the week of Dec. 12 began, the fear of the pandemic was again foisted upon us. Washington state was tracking COVID cases from four wrestling events from the week of Dec. 4. One of these events, the Yelm Varsity Girls tournament was attended by six of the county’s high schools and by Dec. 13 the Clark County Public Health Department (CCPH) was actively tracking COVID-19 cases in our youth members and coaches. By Dec. 16, the CCPH was able to identify 32 cases of the virus associated with wrestling in connection with the aforementioned events as well as several local tournaments. This was enough for the health department to recommend ceasing all wrestling activities. This declaration was the first of its kind for the ‘21-22 school year. This recent recommendation proved to be a cudgel, and even though over 50 percent of teams were unaffected, all the school districts in our county acted in lockstep and followed the CCPH’s recommendation. Other sports had experienced outbreaks of the virus in the fall and even other sports this winter were experiencing some positive cases but no one else was asked to stop their sport in its entirety. Those affected individuals and teams followed established protocols and isolated appropriately and those that were unaffected were allowed to practice and compete.
To be sure the wrestling community was shocked and dismayed by the CCPH’s recommendations and the school district’s response. Twenty members of the community took it upon themselves to gather in solidarity at the Clark County Public Building on Dec. 17 to call in to the last scheduled Clark County Board meeting of the year in the hopes that their voices might be heard. Although the sale of fireworks was the board’s intended topic of discussion, an overwhelming number of parents and coaches called in to bring up a topic that the board was clearly not up to speed on. Fortunately, the board called an emergency meeting to address the wrestling communities’ concerns and we were once again filled with hope that maybe our children’s dreams would be allowed to flourish.
The emergency meeting was held this last Tuesday (Dec. 21). The meeting scheduled to start at 10 a.m. was thrown in flux that morning by an emergency. The parents and coaches patiently waited, undeterred, determined their voices needed to be heard. After a lengthy delay the meeting began, unfortunately the board prioritized their executive board and Dr. Melnick’s prepared statement over the concerns of the wrestling community. Undeterred and after much delay the wrestling communities’ voices finally began to be heard. Passion and enthusiasm for this sport and its participants were expressed over the next hour and would have gone on for hours more with over 70 people wanting to give their prepared three-minute statements before the board shirked their duties and cut off further discussion. The board justified their actions by hollowly suggesting they had listened well and requested that the unheard individuals they ignored to write in their concerns with a promise they would read any and all statements sent to them, conveniently saving them from hours of testimony highlighting their failure of leadership.
But all is not lost. The two hours spent last Tuesday showed to the citizenry that the emperors were wearing no clothes. As the meeting went on it became abundantly clear that the Department of Health, the local school districts, and even the members of the Board of Health were consistently absolving themselves of responsibility for the current situation. Dr. Melnick routinely highlighted that his department’s recommendations were just that, only recommendations. Parents, in numerous testimonies, shared that school districts were telling them they had to follow the recommendations in fear of reprisals. And ultimately the many members of the Board of Health absolved themselves from performing any oversight on the CCPH with comments like the ones from board member Gary Medvigy in which the parents’ concerns about the health department’s recommendations were completely dismissed.
Many parents asked the board members to use their oversight power to prevent the health department from employing undue influence on the community, and Gary’s obfuscation of the health department’s role in these decisions were clearly designed to allow him and the other members of the board to shirk responsibility. Council member Julie Olsen came to the defense of Dr. Melnick’s arbitrary recommendation, which was clearly not well thought out. Recommending canceling all wrestling activities to include practice was unnecessary and arbitrary as the athletes were effectively isolated from the rest of their school’s community due to the holiday break, and the schools’ response to said recommendation should have been expected by the board and the department (and I suspect it was expected and desired).
Granted, the school districts should take more of a reasoned response to the health departments insight, but the board needs to actively monitor their responsibilities and listen to and promote the will of the community they serve. We are long past simple knee jerk reactions to the latest threat to our way of life. Our leaders need to understand and appreciate their responsibility.
Words are very important, but as we have seen the council’s reluctance to oversee the Department of Health has led to significant impacts on portions of our population that are very vulnerable. Our children rely on the adults in authority to make recommendations that are in their best interests. We need the leaders in our community to stand up. The parents and coaches stood up for their wrestlers this week, hopefully their politicians and bureaucrats will hear their message and start doing the same.
The council is having another board meeting on Jan. 4, they should expect another full-throated response from the wrestling community. Merry Christmas!