Too close for comfort? Singlets no longer required in high school wrestling

  • Daniel Curran of ConVal wrestles at home last season. In the fall, wrestlers will no longer be required to wear the classic singlet uniform. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, July 20, 2017 7:17AM

Every wrestler remembers the first time they were faced with it. It gets a tight — some would say, downright uncomfortable — grip, and never lets go, grappling closer than any opponent on the mat. It’s the wrestling singlet, that form-fitting piece of spandex that has been required as each New Hampshire wrestler’s uniform from time immemorial.

“Back in fifth grade when I first tried it on, I was obviously uncomfortable in it because it’s ... small,” said ConVal wrestler Daniel Curran.

“I don’t think anybody has ever actually liked singlets,” said Abe Ewing, ConVal middle school wrestling coach and high school assistant. “I didn’t like singlets when I first started. I was terrified of them.”

Ewing said in his earliest wrestling days, he wore a T-shirt and shorts under his singlet. When he started coaching the middle school team, he saw the same thing from his wards.

“From a wrestling recruiting standpoint, as far as getting kids to try the sport, a lot of them are really apprehensive about wearing a singlet,” Ewing said.

Curran said he faces some mockery from his peers about the uniform, though he shrugs it off like the hundred-some-odd wrestlers he’s planted and pinned over the past few years.

“I have thick skin on it, who cares, for me, but I understand why some people are put off by it,” Curran said.

The reason the singlet has stayed around as long as it has, despite the dislike, is for safety reasons, Ewing explained. Sure, a T-shirt and shorts might be more comfortable, but a finger could get snagged, a shirt could get yanked, and a serious — and avoidable — injury might occur.

And, Curran said, the tight-fitting singlet aids his wrestling in the ring.

“It’s entirely a performance standpoint,” Curran said. “It’s like if you told a swimmer to swim in regular shorts. It’s that tiny miniscule difference that at the top level I would personally care about.”

But when this next wrestling season starts in late fall, the uncomfortable, oft-mocked singlet will be somewhat a thing of the past. Back in May, the National Federation of State High School Associations — the national governing body that suggests rules that the NHIAA more often than not adopts — approved a rule change which would allow wrestlers to wear “an alternate two-piece uniform consisting of compression shorts or shorts designed for wrestling and a form-fitted compression shirt.”

Compression technology has advanced far enough that shirts and shorts no longer need be so loose that they could cause injury. UFC fighters wear a similar getup in their competition, and it was only a matter of time before high school wrestling followed suit.

It’s a move that both Ewing and Curran think could open the door for more and more kids to try wrestling.

“At the end of the day, the more wrestlers we get the better,” Curran said. “I don’t care what we’re wearing.” Curran said he’d start the season in the shirt and shorts, as to not separate himself from the team, but likely switch back to the singlet if the team approves.

Ewing said he hopes the move will lead to bigger middle and high school teams around the country — something that would do wonders for the self-esteem of a generation of kids.

“I truly believe with every ounce of my soul that wrestling is good for young boys and girls,” Ewing said. “It is the truest sport. It’s more honest than other sports. There’s no fame, fortune, glory, none of that exists. It’s just you against yourself. You go out and compete against other people, but if you’re national champ or barely go .500, the only person that really matters to you is you. There’s a segment of the population where wrestling can positively affect your life, if you get rid of singlets, so those kids can have the gumption, or remove one more block of their buddies making fun of them for wearing a singlet, and they already might be insecure ... let’s let them get the positive aspect of the sport. I’m all for it.”