Preps: Wrestlers with ringworm forced to sit out
Roman Augustoviz, Star Tribune
The drama at the state wrestling meet at Xcel Energy Center this week will start with the skin checks during Wednesday’s weigh-ins, which start at 4 p.m.
Several wrestlers were disqualified from competing in the state meet a year ago during those checks when doctors found them with ringworm, a contagious skin infection caused by a fungus. The dominos from that incident, not so unusual in itself, still are falling.
Any wrestler with ringworm on his face must sit out seven days while taking oral medication, according to Minnesota State High School League rules.
Some wrestling coaches thought that was too long.
So they asked the league’s sports medicine advisory committee to reduce the treatment time for ringworm on the face from seven days to one, the same time as it was for ringworm on other parts of the body. (It’s 14 days for ringworm on the scalp.)
Instead, when the coaches and advisory committee couldn’t agree, the treatment time for ringworm on the face and body were set at seven days for this season.
The tougher ringworm policy for lesions on the body has been a hot topic in the wrestling community since.
“[Ringworm] is basically a nuisance kind of problem,” said Becker’s Brad Novak, president of the state wrestling coaches’ association. “It’s not life threatening, it’s just a fungus infection.”
One that can end a career.
“Say you take a wrestler to a tournament the Saturday before sections,” Novak said. “He comes in Monday to practice and has ringworm [on the body]; he misses sections. A kid works six years, he’s a senior and he is out of the state meet. That’s where the controversy is.”
Dr. B.J. Anderson, a physician at Boynton Health Services at the University of Minnesota and the league’s top consultant on skin diseases, has taken a lot of heat on the new ringworm policy via angry e-mails and telephone calls.
“The issue, if you get right to the point, is that coaches and parents are out of touch on what is safe for their kids with respect to skin infections,” he said. “The guidelines we have in place are based on good medical research. With ringworm there is no set time period to completely get rid of it.”
Ringworm is one of many skin diseases found in wrestling, but it’s one of the most common.
Seventy to 80 percent of wrestlers are going to get ringworm sometime in their careers, Anderson said. “It’s 20 to 30 percent of the parents and coaches who are really making a stink about [our rules],” he said.
Anderson, Augsburg College wrestling team doctor, said he has heard from referees and parents that some wrestlers have tried to hide ringworm and that some coaches have been lax on regular skin checks.
That worries him, he said, because a wrestler with ringworm has a higher risk of getting a more serious skin infection.
“No state has a 24-hour rule [on returning from ringworm]; everybody is at least three or four days,” Anderson said. “The 24-hour rule sets you up to get sued. That’s lower than the community standard.”
Jerry Diehl, an assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), said the only people who should be upset over ringworm restrictions are the wrestlers who get ringworm from a carrier who returns to the mat too soon.
He said that the national federation has no rules on how many days a wrestler with ringworm has to sit out — “that’s up to the state associations” — but that the NFHS encourages all states to have some kind of timeline.
“It [ringworm] is so easily transmitted in wrestling; the sport is all body to body contact,” Diehl said.
Oddly, national wrestling hotbed Iowa has no time rule. “We don’t want one,” said Dave Harty, manager of the Iowa wrestling state tournament, which also starts this week. “I leave that up to the medical professionals.”
He said that when a wrestler can return to the mat depends on so many variables, such as when he was diagnosed, when he started treatment and how diligent he is taking his medication. “Physicians have different views on how long the time frame should be for sitting out,” Harty said.
The NCAA rule on returning from ringworm is 72 hours (or three days) after treatment starts.
To Novak, the coach at Becker, that seems more reasonable. He said he and his peers intend to meet with league representatives after the state tournament to discuss a three- or four-day treatment rule for ringworm on the body.
Almost every wrestler gets ringworm, Novak said, but he has seen few cases this season. Perhaps coaches are being more diligent in taking precautions, he said. He, for example, washes his wrestlers’ clothes every day after practice and has the mats washed three times a week.
At least two metro-area teams did shut down their programs completely for a short time this season — missing matches or tournaments — while dealing with skin problems.
Simley had an outbreak of herpes gladitorium in December; St. Paul Como Park had an impetigo outbreak late in the regular season. Herpes gladitorium is a viral infection; impetigo is a bacterial infection.
“They did exactly what they should have; we need more of that,” Anderson said.
Trouble is, wrestling is evolving. Teams are wrestling more matches — Owatonna is closing in on 60 — and traveling to other states. Ads for antifungal creams promise they cure ringworm in 48 hours, but wrestlers and parents have been told a different story for so long.
“When we were introduced to wrestling,” said Sally Ness, whose son Jayson is a two-time state champion for Bloomington Kennedy, “we were told if you get ringworm, you put on this medicine for 24 hours and you could wrestle again.”
Jayson started wrestling in kindergarten. Now he is a senior, and the rules have changed.
“This is a medical issue, and the medical committee has recommended this” ringworm policy, said Skip Peltier, a league associate director who runs Minnesota’s state tournament. “Why would anyone not a doctor question [them]?”