Local mom wants state to ban controversial wrestling move in high school sport

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RAVENNA, Ohio (WJW) -- The mother of a local high school wrestler is up in arms over a controversial move on the mat that she says is putting young grapplers at risk.

During a tournament match on Saturday, 16-year-old Connor Bell, a sophomore at Southeast High School in Ravenna, was sprawled on the ground when his opponent struck him in the back of the neck with his forearm.

The referee immediately blew his whistle and awarded Bell a point for his opponent’s “unnecessary roughness.”

His mother, Nakia Marunowki, said the same thing happened in another match earlier this month.

She has been in nursing for 10 years and said any blow to the back of the neck could cause severe damage and should be outlawed.

“Knowing what goes on with the back of the head, the back of the neck, that it can cause instant death, it's gut wrenching to see anybody get hit like that, but especially your son,” she said.

Her son said  there should be no place for the maneuver in amateur wrestling.

“Winning a match, you know getting a pin and all that is just great and to just see someone lose their life in such a good sport, would be pretty heartbreaking," said Connor.

His mother said strikes to the back of the head and neck have been outlawed in other sports, and she is calling on the State of Ohio to do the same in high school wrestling.

“It's not even permissible in MMA, so something as barbaric as MMA wrestling and UFC and it's not permissible there, how come it`s permissible in high school,” said Marunowski.

FOX 8  shared video of the two matches with one of the top wrestling officials for the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Ray Anthony.

Anthony, who is also the Columbia Township Fire Chief, said it is up to coaches to teach young wrestlers to play by the rules and referees to protect the athletes. He calls the strikes to the back of the neck "overaggressive or even dirty."

"We don't want a blow to the back of the head, obviously you have to worry about spine injury, things like that, and in both of those incidents, the officials were right on top of it,” said Chief Anthony. “Our guys are taught to stop immediately anything potentially dangerous, but if it’s overaggressive, like those maneuvers could have been, they would call it illegal.”

Marunowski said she plans to write a letter to state wrestling officials outlining her concerns, and said she wants assurance that young wrestlers like her son will have some level of protection, in a sport that by its nature is rough and tumble.

“If this is still permitted, he will never wrestle again,” she said.

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