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Family first

Alex Enriquez and Cesar Grajales did not wrestle for a state title, leaving the FHSAA to grapple with a tough issue.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


TAMPA -- Cesar Grajales' father said it's like a fight, a controlled brawl in which the object of the sport is essentially to try to beat up the other person.

That may be overstating things a tad, but competitive wrestling, even on the high school level, is a rough sport, rough enough that you'd have to be an idiot to not understand why two family members wouldn't want to tangle with each other.

Which brings us to the Florida High School Activities Association.

I'm sure there are a lot of fine folks at the FHSAA, but these are not their finest hours. They are standing by a decision at last weekend's state wrestling tournament that seems more idiotic by the day.

Here's what happened: Northside Christian's Cesar Grajales and Jesuit's Alex Enriquez are first cousins and best friends who reached the state final in the 103-pound weight class, but refused to wrestle each other.

They had done it the week before at regionals, and the experience left both feeling uneasy and troubled. So, they informed FHSAA officials they weren't going to wrestle in the final because of their families ties. It would be, they said, too uncomfortable.

The FHSAA's response was essentially this: That's real touching, but we're still going to throw the book at you.

FHSAA officials not only ruled a double forfeit, but they denied the boys medals, and vowed to exclude their names from the tournament's records.

I'm not saying the FHSAA was too hard on them, but you can get less for yelling "Bomb!" in a crowded airport.

FHSAA officials say they simply followed the national federation rule book, which called for a double forfeit and requires the title be vacated.

"I tried to be up front with the families that these are the consequences," said FHSAA associate athletic director Gary Pigott, who heads the association's wrestling division. "I told them it was their choice, but this is what would happen."

The problem is, nobody consulted the Unofficial Rule Book of Common Sense, which states that family members shouldn't be severely penalized for refusing to compete against each other in high school sports. Look it up.

This obviously was a serious matter to the families. Grajales, an eighth-grader at Northside Christian, gave up a chance to become the first eighth-grader in state history to win a high school state wrestling title and possibly the first to win five in a career. All in the name of family harmony.

"They are really close. They're like best friends, and wrestling is like fighting," said Grajales' father, Cesar. "It's not like they were going to play pingpong. We're talking about wrestling where you sort of go out there to kill the other guy."

Listen, prep sports, not to mention society in general, would be utterly chaotic without rules. They help maintain order, discipline and fairness. But no rule is unalterable. Rules must constantly be reviewed and interpreted.

Heck, even the Constitution gets amended from time to time.

The folks at the national federation and the FHSAA ought to know that. And they ought to know that it's becoming more common for siblings and family members to compete in the same sport.

Do you think they've heard of the Williams sisters?

Clearly, the national federation and the FHSAA need to re-examine their rules. Something is definitely screwy when your rules say if one of the two boys had forfeited the state final, one would have been crowned the champion and the other would have been named the runner-up. Yet, if both forfeit, they are basically disqualified from the whole event.

Does that make any sense? The families haven't given up. They are pursuing the matter, hoping FHSAA officials will change their minds and give the boys the recognition they feel they earned. If they can't be co-champions, then the families want them to at least be declared runners-up.

But this isn't entirely about medals. FHSAA officials missed an opportunity to drive home valuable lessons.

That rules have a meaningful purpose but should be followed using common sense. And that being resolute in your beliefs and values is something that should be encouraged, not discouraged, in young people.

Unless, of course, the FHSAA has a rule against that, too.

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