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Judge rules Wisconsin state champ can defend title

A Wisconsin judge has ruled that a defending state champion wrestler can continue to compete, overturning a suspension issued by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association regarding alleged incidents during a wrestling match last weekend.

Hayden Halter, a sophomore wrestler at Waterford Union High School who won the 106-pound title at the 2018 Wisconsin state wrestling championships while competing a different high school, will be allowed to compete at the District 1 competition Saturday, the Racine Journal Times reported Friday evening.

After a 2.5-hour hearing Friday afternoon, Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Piontek issued an injunction to block a suspension the WIAA gave Halter last week at the Southern Lakes Conference meet.

Halter, who now wrestles at 120 pounds, was crowned the SLC champ last Saturday but was suspended by the WIAA after two incidents during the finals match.

In the closing seconds of the match, the referee gave one point to Halter's opponent for an escape. Halter, along with his father Shawn and his coach Tom Fitzpatrick, questioned the call.

Halter stood up and said something to the mat official. The wrestler claims he asked the referee, "What was that?" in reference to the escape call, since it appeared Halter still had his arms wrapped around his opponent. However, the official issued an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, claiming that Halter cursed at him.

Moments later, after Halter and his opponent shook hands, Halter had his arm raised in victory. He briefly flexed his muscles and yelled "yes!" in celebration.

The referee claimed that Halter's flex was a taunt, directed at fans in the stands from Burlington High, his former school where he won his 2018 state title. The official issued a second unsportsmanlike conduct call, which resulted in a one-match suspension. That suspension would have made it impossible for Halter to compete at this weekend's district competition, a qualifying event for the state championships, and therefore not be able to defend his title.

Halter's father and coach appealed the suspension immediately after the match. However, under WIAA rules, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is a judgment call by the referee, and judgment calls cannot be appealed for an official review after the event is concluded.

The WIAA can appeal the judge's ruling, although a trial likely wouldn't be held for months. If it succeeds in that appeal, then any victories Halter is awarded during that time can be revoked. But, until a trial can take place, Judge Piontek's restraining order stands, and Halter still has a shot at back-to-back championships... and possibly fulfill his dream of becoming a four-time Wisconsin state titlist.

Waterford Union High School -- where Hayden Halter is now enrolled -- is located in southeast Wisconsin, straight west of Racine, and southwest of Milwaukee. It has 1,100 students.

UPDATE 2/10/2019
Hayden Halter won the regional title at Pewaukee, pinning two of his three opponents in less than a minute... and keeping his Wisconsin state title hopes alive. Next step on the way to the state championships: the sectional tournament next weekend.

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