WATERFORD — Hayden Halter hopes to be back in action this weekend.
And his wrestling coach is convinced he will be.
Waterford High School’s state champion wrestler was disqualified from continuing his individual season last weekend after he received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties while winning the 120-pound championship at the Southern Lakes Conference meet at Elkhorn.
Halter’s situation has stirred up considerable interest among high school wrestling fans in Racine County and across the state, and has his parents retaining a lawyer.
On Wednesday, Waterford coach Tom Fitzpatrick said he is hopeful the sophomore will compete Saturday at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 Regional at Pewaukee.
Fitzpatrick said progress is being made to get Halter — ranked No. 1 in the state at 120 pounds by Wisconsin Wrestling Online — back on the mat.
“We’ve had a lot of back-and-forth conversations with the WIAA today and I’m encouraged by what we’re hearing,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re asking for information from us, and they haven’t said ‘No, this isn’t happening.’ The fact that they are talking with us is a great sign and I fully expect Hayden to be able to wrestle Saturday.”
Last Saturday, Halter received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the 120-pound championship match against Union Grove sophomore Cade Willis, ranked No. 7 by Wisconsin Wrestling Online. The referee of the match was Michael Arendt, the athletic director at St. Catherine’s High School and a former teacher and coach at Union Grove High School.
Halter was up 7-1 in the third period with 20 seconds left. The two wrestlers stayed interlocked until the buzzer sounded. Arendt gave Willis a point for an escape, which made the final score 7-2, and Halter questioned the official’s decision.
“It didn’t make any sense to me,” Halter said Monday. “To have an escape, you have to be totally separated from your opponent, and we were together in those final 20 seconds. I said to the ref, ‘What was that?’ and he gave me an unsportsmanlike conduct call.”
After that call was issued, Halter shook hands with Willis and then flexed his muscles. The referee then assessed a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
On Monday, WIAA officials said the decision to disqualify Halter was final and could not be appealed.
“In the official’s judgement, (Halter’s) actions were enough to be considered flagrant,” said Wade Labecki, WIAA deputy director who oversees wrestling.
Arendt has declined to comment on the situation.
Halter won the Division 1 106-pound state championship as a freshman for Burlington last season. If he cannot wrestle at the regional meet, he cannot advance to sectionals and get back to the state individual tournament Feb. 21-23 at Madison.
Window of opportunity
Even if the disqualification stands, Halter could wrestle again if the Wolverines win the regional team title at Pewaukee on Saturday.
Halter would be allowed to wrestle at the Division 1 team sectional dual meet scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, at Mukwonago. The winner of that meet would be one of eight Division 1 teams to qualify for the state team tournament March 1-2 at Madison.
To win the regional title on Saturday, Waterford, ranked No. 12 among Division 1 teams by Wisconsin Wrestling Online, would have to defeat No. 2 ranked Mukwonago at the eight-team meet.
Fitzpatrick said he is confident the Wolverines can do that.
“We’re going to sink that ship,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got a tough group of kids and we’re going to fight hard to advance.”
Halter’s mother, Brynn, said the family plans to file a lawsuit at the end of the season, regardless if Halter is allowed to wrestle again.
“Our lawyer discovered that there is no appeal process or any sort of process to get this done,” she said. “I can say that we are pursuing this, even if they allow him to wrestle.”