‘Unprecedented:’ Wisconsin judge tosses wrestler’s suspension, worrying refs

MILWAUKEE — A Wisconsin judge overturned a high school wrestler’s suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct after the student’s parents took legal action, worrying referees and the state’s athletic association that officiating decisions could be undermined by courts.

At issue is a Feb. 2 wrestling contest in which the victor was suspended for one match for arguing and with a referee and “primping” and showing off his muscles after he won, according to Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials.

The suspension of Waterford High School sophomore Hayden Halter would have caused him to miss a key match to make it to the state tournament finals.

Halter’s parents disagreed with the suspension. Since the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association doesn’t allow appeals, they took their case to court in Racine County. There, Judge Michael Piontek concluded on Friday, Feb. 8 that Halter’s actions didn’t merit suspension, based on testimony he heard and the video he saw, which was taken from the bleachers by Halter’s mother.

Mano condemned the judge’s ruling, saying he became, in effect, the replay official in a sport that doesn’t allow the use video to check officials’ calls.

“That’s unprecedented,” he said. “All of a sudden you’re the referee? Have you ever refereed a match, sir? Have you ever been down there on the mat, in the heat of battle, sir?”

The WIAA, which is the organization Halter’s parents challenged in court, said in a statement that officials are “weighing alternative courses of action,” but could not comment further. WIAA can appeal the judge’s ruling.

Mano said WIAA doesn’t allow wrestlers to appeal officials’ calls because it would create too many complications.

“That’s the Pandora’s box. If WIAA gave the right to appeal an officiating call, just imagine where this is going to go,” he said.

Halter is scheduled to compete Saturday at the Division 1 sectional meet at Horlick High School. If he wins there, he’ll go to the state tournament.

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