Wrestling programs across the state deal with staph issues

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All three of the county’s high school wrestling programs had mat-cleaning routines at the start of the 2011-12 season.

All three programs appear to have placed even more emphasis on cleaning in the past month or so.

Recent announcements regarding regular staph infections and MRSA, or Multidrug-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, have brought scrutiny to New Mexico wrestling programs.

A letter was sent home with Belen High students around Jan. 10, detailing 13 confirmed cases and one MRSA case, all confined to the BHS wrestlers and one cheerleader.

However, the issue has gone far beyond Belen High, Belen Schools, and beyond the wrestling community. No one seems to be able to say with certainty how the bacteria was spread, and for many in the wrestling community, it is less about blame at this point, and more about the solution.

“It is not just us,” said Rebecca Dominguez, the BHS trainer, who said she personally has not contracted a staph infection. “I’m really upset about any kids that have been picked on or made fun of, because it’s not like any of them set out to get infected.”

After a BHS cheerleader was diagnosed with a staph infection around Jan. 2, a BHS wrestler showed symptoms the next day. The following day, several Eagle wrestlers turned up with signs of staph, so coach Lee Chaves and others closed the wrestling and weight rooms, started an intense disinfection effort, limited wrestling practice to outdoor cardio work, and canceled the varsity and junior varsity events for the weekend of Jan. 8.

The BHS staff pulled all mats out of the wrestling room and mopped them twice on both sides, and cleaned the bare floor of the room.

No clothing can be left in lockers overnight — only knee pads and shoes can be kept at school. There is plenty of Germ-X available now, Dominguez said, along with nearly hourly verbal reminders to wash hands, shower daily and wash clothes after each use.

BHS is disinfecting its wrestling mats with a solution called DMQ, a damp-mop-neutral disinfectant cleaner. There’s one bucket for fresh water and another for rinsing, so two mops touch the mat on each washing.

The DMQ label lists several types of bacteria it’s designed to kill, including staph.

“From the very beginning, we have communicated with all our athletic, junior wrestling, and P.E. groups about what they, as individuals, need to do,” said Belen Schools athletics coordinator Rodeny Wright. “We feel confident that the infected areas are confined to the wrestling area. However, we have also disinfected the weight room and its equipment.”

Chaves took his team to a Dec. 17 Farmington tournament. The Eagles took their customary break from using the wrestling room over Christmas break. At some point during the break, Chaves said the team’s gear and wooden lockers were set on top of the mats while a new tile floor was installed in the locker room that attaches to the back of the wrestling mats.

Also, the heat was left on in the room, making for sweltering temperatures when the room was re-opened for use around Jan. 1. Chaves said a maintenance person told him it was 106 degrees in the room.

The coach said he believes the extreme heat might have allowed bacteria to fester, because the staph symptoms became present within the first few days of the new year.

After the Moriarty trip was cancelled, KOAT-TV ran a story about the MRSA case. That followed by media coverage that mentioned staph infections in the same stories as La Merced and Dennis Chavez elementary schools.

“If I could just ask one favor from parents, it’s that they come talk to us instead of going to TV stations first,” said Dominguez. “We’ll listen to their concerns, and we’ll tell them what we’re doing to keep the kids safe.”
Chaves said he has talked with coaches and referees from around the state about staph issues, past and present. While coaches seem to generally be well-informed about health issues, there have been a few who move bad information, he said.

“I almost feel like if anyone else in the state gets it, we’re (Belen) going to be blamed,” he said.

The staph infection news surfaced just before Valencia High’s Jan. 16 dual at Belen. Only six wrestlers attended that dual, and VHS coach Tom Torres seemed upset that parents were concerned about a dual at BHS. However, Torres confirmed this week that one of his own wrestlers had been diagnosed with a staph infection — a wrestler who did not face any Belen opponents in January.

The VHS wrestling room was closed for cleaning for a few days last week, though Torres was unclear on which days. A scheduled Jan. 25 home dual was postponed indefinitely, and has not been re-scheduled.

Torres was uncertain if the wrestler has the serious MRSA infection. He said he has no knowledge of any VHS junior wrestlers with staph infections.

“We cleaned the walls, floors, mats, locker rooms, everything,” said Torres. “It’s hard to keep skin healthy. Last year, a kid turned up with ringworm, and he had never even been on the mat.”
Los Lunas High coach Steve Chavez said the way his wrestling room is set up, with an outside access door nearby, dirt and germs literally fly in.

“We appreciate other groups not using our room, and if our juniors use it, they mop before and after,” said Chavez. “And we don’t share our mop with anyone.”


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.