Journeymen Wrestling Club owner and operator Frank Popolizio is in the process of putting together an April tournament for high school-level New York wrestlers that will be held in Pennsylvania, which currently has its high school and club sports on pause.
Popolizio’s prep for the Journeymen New York State Championships is taking place while COVID-19 cases are on the rise both nationally and internationally, and also while COVID-19 vaccinations are starting to take place.
“We were able to host an event in November that met all the requirements and protocols,” Popolizio said of the Journeymen Adidas Fall Classic that ran Nov. 21-22 at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim, Pennsylvania. “This event is four months away. [By April], I am pretty sure we’ll be back to pre-surge numbers.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s executive order on Dec. 10 contains a section dedicated to varsity athletics: “Section 8: Interscholastic athletics, intrascholastic athletics, and intrastate and interstate sports leagues and tournaments are suspended for all sports.” The governor’s order is effective through Jan. 4, 2021. Currently, college and professional athletic events there can be held without spectators. Pennsylvania also has its own travel ordinance in effect from Dec. 17, which mandates that travelers entering Pennsylvania from other countries and states are required to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering Pennsylvania or quarantine for 10 days upon entry into the state.
Currently, travelers from bordering states who enter into New York “are exempt from the travel advisory” that New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced in early November.
Popolizio — a Niskayuna High School graduate — acknowledged that while plans are being made, the Journeymen event may not happen or could be modified due to COVID-19 restrictions that are in place in Pennsylvania in the upcoming months.
“I have a plan,” Popolizio said. “Having a plan is only a portion of the battle. If the plan takes a curve, we’ll adjust.”
Popolizio said his Journeymen New York State Championships scheduled for April 2 is about giving athletes an opportunity to go against several high-caliber opponents like they would at the state high school finals.
This winter’s state high school wrestling championships, which were scheduled for Feb. 26-27 at Times Union Center in Albany, were called off by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association on Dec. 11 due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Journeymen event and the NYSPHSAA are not connected.
“The idea started in September,” Popolizio said. “We knew that [the state tournament cancellation] could happen, and when the rug got pulled, we were ready.”
Wrestlers from each of New York’s 11 sections, as well as those from New York’s three private-school organizations who meet certain criteria based on last season’s results, are eligible for the Journeymen event. The event will include 15 weight classes.
“Of all the meets I have organized or put together, I’ve never had more interest than this,” said Popolizio, a 2018 National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee. “It’s incredible how many people have called me looking to participate.”
NYSPHSAA wrestling chairman Marty Sherman said that the state organization is aware of the Journeymen event.
“If it doesn’t have their name affiliated with it, NYSPHSAA is perfectly OK with it,” Sherman said. “It is not illegal.”
Popolizio estimated that around 450 wrestlers will take part should the event get the go-ahead from Pennsylvania authorities.
“This is a big deal for a lot of guys who have lived and trained their entire life to get to this point, and had the opportunity taken from them,” Popolizio said. “We are determined to give people a platform.”
“It might be something for the seniors who lost that opportunity, but it won’t be the same,” Sherman said. “It will be unofficial.”
The Section II wrestling championships have also been canceled this winter due to COVID-19 concerns.