Aging mats a concern for BHS wrestlers

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Even though he already graduated from Belen High School in May, Wyatt Robinson had something to ask of the Belen Board of Education at a recent meeting.

With nine current Eagles wrestlers standing behind him in two rows, the three-time state champion and All-American wrestler asked the board to replace BHS' aging wrestling mats with new ones.

"Now that my time in high school is over, I want to make sure I ensure a great future for the wrestlers that are going to be coming through this program," Robinson said as he addressed the board in mid-May.

Robinson said the mats in the wrestling room don't cover the entire layout of the room's floor, leaving portions exposed and others areas with the mats curling up the walls. The mat itself is torn in places giving bacteria an optimal place to grow, he said, causing potential health hazards.

"We get a lot of ringworm and staff infection, because of this," he said. "I got a staff infection the first week I was at practice and it's becoming a bad thing."

Although the mats are professionally cleaned and sanitized by Advanced Environmental Solutions in Belen, wrestlers continued to suffer from bacterial infections throughout the school year, Robinson said.

In addition to the health hazard, the mats have thinned dangerously — Robinson recalled accidentally breaking a teammate's arm during practice in his sophomore year.

To bring the wrestling room up to par, Robinson asked for a liner for the floor and wrestling mats that fit the entire room at Belen High School as well as resurfacing the wrestling mats at Belen Middle School. Robinson estimated these improvements would cost about $21,000.

BHS wrestling coach Lee Chaves said the team recently did some fundraising, cobbling together "$3,500 to $4,000" for the project. But the coach, who is entering his ninth year as coach at Belen High, said he feels replacing the mats is too big a project for the team to do alone.

"This is one of the things I don't feel that we should be fundraising for," Chaves said in a recent phone interview. "You fundraise for travel or something that's not a requirement. Fundraising for mats is like (the school) fundraising for books or football fundraising for helmets — things you have to have.

"It's great that people are offering to help and we've made people aware that it's really important," he said.

Robinson and Chaves both mentioned Belen high's commitment to improving the school's athletic facilities as a positive, citing recent work to improve the school's tennis courts and a field house, softball and baseball locker rooms, as well as the gymnasium. which was recently renovated with new bleachers, a play board and scoreboard along with resurfaced floors.

But both said they hoped those improvements would extend to the wrestling program sooner than later.

"Belen has done a tremendous job taking care of programs," he said. "Our facilities are excellent … it really pays off. So we're hoping we can put a little money into new mats for the wrestling room. Even with refurbishing, some of those mats can go to the middle school. So it's a trickle-down effect."

With high priority projects recently completed, Board President Sam Chavez said the district would look into the situation and try to fund the improvements using funds from Senate Bill 9 from the Public School Capital Improvements Act. These funds can be used as supplementary school funding for capital improvement needs, he said.

"Now that all of those jobs are out of the way, I think that we can place this on a higher priority and probably get something done," Chavez said.

George Perea, the district's business and finance director, said $1.9 million was set aside for the SB9 fund in the 2013-14 school year beginning July 1.

Belen High School principal and Belen Schools Athletic Director Rodney Wright said he has also added new mats into his athletic's wish list for the upcoming school year.

"When doing the five-year plan," he said, "I actually did put in a requirement down the line for an auxiliary gym complex for the high school and a new gym complex for the middle school that would accommodate more space for wrestling and the space needed for boys and girls basketball and cheer.

"But I do agree with the purchase of wrestling mats," he said.

(News-Bulletin reporter Kenn Rodriguez contributed to this report.)


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