In St. Ansgar, one thing is for certain and that is the love of athletics. Not just one sport, but all of them. People from St. Ansgar and all parts of Northern Iowa love all kinds of sports, but how do you know which one is for you? St. Ansgar wondered that last year as well, especially for winter sports with wrestling and basketball season happening at the same time.
St. Ansgar has done a split season in middle school for years, a way to allow younger athletes to experience both basketball and wrestling in the same winter sports season. But last year, St. Ansgar considered going away from a split-season but ultimately decided against going away from it, which was good news for the wrestling program.
Wrestling is a very popular sport, but a lot of younger athletes don’t have easy access to watch wrestling on a higher platform like you can with basketball. Take the NBA for instance, they have games nationally televised on a nightly basis. But with wrestling, it takes a little more digging to find a wrestling meet being televised.
“There are kids that are labeled for a particular sport at an early age,” said Junior High Wrestling Coach Craig Christensen. “I encourage kids to try both sports. Basketball and wrestling are different sports in many ways and an athlete can learn skills from each sport that will help them in other athletic areas. Athletes will also have friends in different sports. Learning a sport allows student athletes to support each other at the next level because they better understand the sport and what it takes to perform.”
And that is the benefit of having a split season. Kids can try out the different sports while they are still learning the basics and can make their own decisions by trial and error.
“Each year I have wrestlers who have never wrestled, some stay out and some do not,” said Coach Christensen. “But on the current High School team, 10 varsity wrestlers never wrestled before 7th grade. St. Ansgar has had 4 state place winners that would have never tried the sport of wrestling if it wasn’t for a split season.”
One might think that the season might not be long enough for the kids that know what sport they want to play, but that’s not necessarily true. This year, the middle school boys basketball schedule went from November 6, 2018 to December 17, 2018. The wrestling season goes from January 8, 2019 to February 19, 2019. Keeping athletes focused through the course of season can be tough, especially in the developmental stages of learning a sport.
“Looking at the middle school football schedule, it is just over 7 weeks long,” said Christensen. “Our middle school wrestling season is 7 weeks long. I feel that the kids improve throughout the season, but at the end of the 7 weeks, many middle school students are ready for the next activity.”
“I’m glad that our school decided to stick with split seasons,” said Barry Kittleson, the High School Wrestling Coach for the Saints. “We need to be able to let kids try out both wrestling and basketball. If we didn’t have split seasons, I’m not sure we would have the numbers to have a full high school wrestling team. In basketball, in my opinion, you will have 8-9 guys or girls playing in the rotation while the other 7 or 8 sit on the bench. In wrestling, we need 14 kids to fill out the weight classes from 106 pounds to 285 pounds.”
The St. Ansgar school ultimately decided to stick with the split season schedule, just like the many other schools in the Top of Iowa Conference. Split Seasons are here to stay and with it, will help youth athletes with their decision making when it comes time to make the jump to high school sports. In a time where a multi-sport athlete has been proven to be beneficial in development, what’s the harm in letting students try out both wrestling and basketball in middle school? It’s another level to being a multi-sport athlete.