Nicholas Fant is a junior at Wake Forest-Rolesville High School in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is a wrestler in the 220 pound weight class who always drops to one knee for a two second prayer prior to entering the ring to start a match. Fant made it to the state finals where he and his coach had mapped out his strategy for his first match.
When Fant approached the wrestling mat, he dropped to one knee for two seconds for his prayer and then entered the ring. To his and his coach’s shock, the state wrestling referee instantly penalized Fant one point for stalling. This was the first time that anyone had penalized him for doing what he normally did before every match.
The point penalty caused Fant to change his strategy at the last second and he ended up losing the match 3-0 to his opponent.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rulebook, there are 27 pages that describe a variety of reasons that may lead a referee to issue a penalty point for stalling. Among those reasons are unnecessary changing or adjusting of equipment, not returning from out of bounds fast enough and delaying in taking the starting position to begin a match. Nothing in the rule says anything about a two second prayer.
Sam Hershey, Fant’s coach questioned the call and said that he wanted someone to clarify it for him. David Whitfield, the Commissioner for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association told the local news that the referee was justified in making the call. He explained:
“When the referee called them to the center of the mat, at that point it’s time to wrestle. It had everything to do with the rules of wrestling. You have discretion in all rules as it relates to wrestling, but in this case, one of the wrestlers was in the circle waiting.”
However, another wrestling official disagrees with Whitfield and the call made against Fant. David Culbreth, an official with the Southeastern Wrestling Officials Association said he would not have made the call against Fant, explaining:
“God gets two seconds. I’m not going to call that. But if it turned into a 60-second prayer, he’d probably get a verbal warning — or I might try to say ‘Amen’ for him.”
If I were Fant and his coach, I would protest the call to the highest authority possible and even take it to the media as a possible religious discrimination. Fant had kneeled and prayed his two second prayer before every match and it was never called nor was he ever warned. To make such a call in the all-important state finals is unethical and sends a very negative message to all high school athletes that some officials are going to penalize you for your faith and there’s nothing you can do about it.
And if any of you say it’s no big deal because he lost anyway, let me tell you. When an athlete has a strategy all laid out and then is forced to alter it at the last minute because of something so wrong, it can throw everything off, including the mental concentration of the athlete. He’s now wondering what to do and what course of action to take, but it’s too late because the match has already started.
I believe that Fant was treated unfairly and very possibly for religious reasons and should be given another chance to wrestle the same opponent using his original strategy. I also believe that the referee be given a warning before he is allowed to ref anymore wrestling matches.