Thompson, Hester “confident” return to mat is imminent

Published 3:46 pm Tuesday, November 24, 2015

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

ALABASTER – The news broke late Friday afternoon, Nov. 20 that the Thompson Warriors wrestling program was being placed on restrictive probation for the remainder of the 2015-16 school year. The five-time defending state champions were hit for “numerous violations of Contest bylaws in its wrestling program,” according to a press release sent out by the AHSAA, and as a result are prohibited from competing in any contest involving more than two schools, including championship play, until the end of the school year.

The violations were self-reported, according to the press release and confirmed by Thompson principal Wesley Hester. Hester said the problem arose from a misinterpretation of the AHSAA rule that limits the number of out-of-season competition dates allowed per sport.

“The issue was with the coaches,” Hester said. “It was the presence of the coaches at some of the competitions we attended. Some of the events weren’t technically matches. However, them being there and being present qualifies as a competition date. There’s an opportunity for coaches to develop and coach the players in those situations, and it could be considered a competitive advantage. We were not looking at it through that lens so to speak.”

Under AHSAA rules, schools are allowed four days of summer practice competition per sport. When it was brought to the Thompson administration’s attention that it was the presence of the wrestling coaches Shawn Weltzin and Chris Pike at these summer events that qualified them as competition dates under AHSAA rules, Hester and the administration took the necessary steps.

“It (the violation) was self-reported,” Hester said. “It came to our attention about the issues and this particular rule. We sought the guidance of the athletic association and we sent in a letter of self-report.”

Each competition the wrestling program took part in over the allowed number counts as its own specific violation. Neither the press release nor Hester gave specifics on how many times Thompson violated the rule, but both said it was more than once.

“It was multiple,” Hester said. “We had some clinics and some camps that we had engaged in that had to be counted towards that. As far as our competition dates that we knew would count towards those (four available days), we had three.”

While the news came as a shock and disappointment to the Alabaster community, there is still hope yet to salvage the wrestling season in 2015-16. Thompson can apply for relief from the restrictive probation on Jan. 4, 2016, which would allow the Warriors to potentially salvage the 2015-16 season, the press release stated. Hester feels strongly that the Warriors will be able to wrestle again this year.

“It’s been clearly laid out for us,” Hester said. “It’s just a matter of time. It’s just mainly following through with missing out on the events. Once the time passes us by we feel very confident that we will be back on the mat.”

The Thompson wrestling program has distinguished itself as the top program in the state. The program is entering into its ninth year of existence, and has won a state championship in each of the last five years under the direction of Weltzin.

Two-time heavyweight state champion TJ Rayam is entering into his senior season this year and highlights another strong Warrior team.