Kristopher Ketchum can compete in the New York state wrestling championships this weekend, despite having been suspended from wrestling at a qualifying tournament earlier this month, a state Supreme Court judge ruled on Wednesday.
Ketchum, a senior at Rocky Point High School on Long Island, N.Y., had been called for flagrant misconduct during a match on Jan. 17 and was given a state-mandated one match suspension that would have prevented him from participating in the Suffolk County qualifying tournament on Feb. 2, according to Newsday. However, a judge granted a stay and Ketchum was permitted to wrestle. He won his three bouts and earned the right to wrestle in the state championship tournament in Albany starting Friday.
That initial ruling was not the end of the matter. Last week, Ketchum was declared ineligible for the championships by New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas "to protect the integrity of our rules that apply to everyone."
In an interview, Zayas said Ketchum "has not served the prescribed penalty" for his disqualification; state athletic rules say an athlete must sit out the next contest after an ejection. Zayas did not believe the appellate court's decision pertained to NYSPHSAA because the organization which oversees high school athletic competition within the state of New York was not named in Ketchum's lawsuit.
However, state Supreme Court judge Michael Gajdos, at an emergency hearing in Riverhead court late Wednesday afternoon, ruled to not overturn the appellate judges' decision from earlier this month, thus opening the door for Ketchum to take to the mats at the state championships this weekend.
Accommodating Ketchum into the state tournament at the last minute took a bit of doing on the part of the bracket-builders.
"We [had been] directed to seed the state-tournament bracket without Ketchum," said Ed Ramirez, who serves on the state wrestling committee and is the director of athletics for the Baldwin Union Free School District. "After the [most recent] court ruling allowing Ketchum to wrestle, the state wrestling committee decided to create an outer bracket at 145 pounds and go with 17 wrestlers in the competition, instead of 16."
With the addition of Ketchum, all first-round matches at 145 had to be changed. Ketchum was seeded sixth in his bracket, thanks to his season record of 44-5.
"We didn't just add him [at the end]," Ramirez explained. "We went through the points system and put him in the spot he earned. We could have removed the final at-large bid and stayed with a 16-man bracket. But we felt that would be unfair to the last competitor that had practiced and prepared for the last two weeks for the state tournament."
The case may end up being resolved long after the last matches have been wrestled at the New York state championships this weekend The NYSPHSAA's Zayas said the organization will appeal state Supreme Court judge Gajdos' decision, saying it's important protect against a potential courtroom precedent that encourages other suspended athletes to bring their cases to court.
This New York state case has some similarities to one in Wisconsin, where Hayden Halter, a defending state champ, had been disqualified from participating in the next tournament to qualify for state because of two infractions in his final match at a conference tournament. A judge overturned the decision of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for high school sports within the state of Wisconsin. Halter will be competing at the Wisconsin state championships this weekend.