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Emphasizing ‘faith rather than fear,’ a college wrestling tournament went on

Wrestling went on as planned in Allen, Tex. (iStock)

Although sports leagues around the country suspended competition last week because of the coronavirus pandemic, the National College Wrestling Association held its national championships over the weekend, with the organization’s executive director explaining, “We’re going to operate on faith rather than fear.”

The organization is not affiliated with the NCAA, which canceled its March Madness and all national championships in response to the covid-19 pandemic, and the championship is the top event for college wrestlers outside the NCAA. More than 600 athletes from 84 colleges, including UCLA and Ohio State, participated in the event, held in the Dallas suburb of Allen, Tex.

Three main mats were used, according to the Dallas Morning News, and those were sanitized three times a day. Referees were not allowed to hold up the winning athlete’s hand after a match, traditional in wrestling. Athletes with a temperature over 100.4 were to be disqualified, but the NCWA’s executive director said temperatures were not taken at the event.

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“I think a lot of this is driven by fear,” the executive director, Jim Giunta, said Friday when asked why the event hadn’t been canceled. “We’re going to do everything in our power to create an environment that’s more than safe for our athletes. But after we do everything we can do, we’re going to operate on faith rather than fear.”

Eleven schools did not participate because of coronavirus concerns, and roughly nine more pulled out before the competition began, although they had traveled to Allen for the event, which began Thursday and ended Saturday. Signs were posted about how to prevent the spread of covid-19, and sanitizers were on the scorer’s tables. Athletes were not allowed to practice on the competition mats, instead using one practice mat, according to the Morning News. One coach told the Morning News that his coronavirus concerns were “on the back burner,” and Liberty University Coach Jesse Castro said he thought the pandemic was “overhyped.”

“You know the talking points. We’ve dealt with this kind of stuff before,” Castro said. ”… We’re vigilant and we use common sense, but I refuse to live in fear. I’m not gonna do that.”

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Castro brought 19 athletes to the competition and said he agreed with Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., who has said that he believes the coronavirus is a Democratic tool to impeach the president. “Call me a conspiratorist or whatever,” Castro said. “Is that to minimize what’s going on? Absolutely not. But you cannot view this from a prism without being political to some degree. It’s too obvious.”

For athletes on a granular level, the event offered a last chance to compete.

“I’m just really thankful that they didn’t cancel it because I’ve worked so hard to get here,” Liberty’s Charisse Manley said. “I want an opportunity to put all my hard work to the test.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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