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The championship moment for Zak Haynes at the state championships last spring. Photos by Mark Bell.

Wrestling season will be different

By Michael Butler

Tallassee wrestling coach John Mask knows there will be challenges with the changes put in place in the COVID era with another close-contact sport getting underway. Safety restrictions are in place for the 2020-21 season.

"We're really having to do things differently," Mask said. "Kind of like if you have a seating chart in a class, you have a wrestling chart where kids have a wrestling spot on a mat to work with that partner only. They stay six feet away. If something happened, hopefully those two would be the only ones exposed, not the other thirty-something."

There will be no traditional large tournaments as Tallassee has participated in quite regularly over the years.

Mask with last year's captains Zak Haynes (left) and Mason Bell

"You might have had 30 teams in a gym," Mask added. "Now it's four teams max. Tallassee's varsity and JV would be two teams. It's changing the way we do things. We're just happy they're letting us have a season. We're going to follow the rules and try to maintain a safe and clean environment."

The number of dates for competition is similar to years past, but the number of matches will drop quite a bit.

"It's all duals unless you have a quad match. That's the max you can have with four varsity teams. You'll wrestle three matches. That's the most you can do. We used to travel to Florida. The "Beast at the Beach" has been canceled with teams from all over the southeast. Some states are not even doing wrestling."

Tallassee competes in Class 5A. This is the first season in the new cycle of reclassification. In addition, the classifications for determining champions have been overhauled by the AHSAA.

"In previous years it's been 1A-5A and 6A and 7A," Mask said. "The AHSAA made a change and said 4As were not competitive. To remedy that they made a 1A-4A class, which I think was a good move. But, they combined 5A and 6A. Are you doing what was going on in 1A-4A to where 5As can't compete? We'll see.

"We're going to work hard and wrestle anybody, anywhere. We always have. It's going to be mighty tough. You're looking at schools with a thousand kids. We're among the smallest 5As with 375. There's a big gap there."

Six of seven state qualifiers return this season. Qualifiers from last season are pictured after sectionals (left to right): Christian McCrary, Land Bell, John Burnham, Brendan Emfinger, Zak Haynes, Mason Bell, Jake Debardelaben.

State champion Zak Haynes has graduated. Fellow state qualifier Mason Bell, a senior this year, is on the injured list to begin the season.

Micah Cole last season

"I'm hoping first of January we can get him back," Mask said of Bell. "We're hoping by mid-January he'll be going full speed. The state is Feb. 18 and 19. He set the school record for wins last year. He won't have an opportunity to do that as far as single season. Due to COVID, that's going to be hindered anyway. He's our leader. He's a captain. He's motivating other kids."

Five other state qualifiers are back on this season's squad; Land Bell, Brendan Emfinger, Christian McCary, John Burnham and Jake Debardelaben.

"We've got a lot of guys coming back. We have a good nucleus. A lot have wrestled before. We have to stay healthy and safe of the COVID situation. We're going to compete."

Varsity/JV Schedules