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Robert Faulkens is in his fourth year as an IHSAA assistant commissioner in charge or wrestling. He is a 1980 South Bend LaSalle High School graduate. (IHSAA Photo)

Concord's DeLawrence Gayfield placed sixth at 113 pounds at the 2013 IHSAA State Wrestling Finals. (Truth Photo by Steve Krah)
IHSAA's Faulkens stresses communication, sportsmanship for wrestling

Posted on Jan. 15, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 15, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.

Communication and cooperation are the keys.

Robert Faulkens considers wrestling in Indiana to be in better shape four years after he first became an Indiana High School Athletic Association assistant commissioner in charge of the mat sport.

Faulkens has encouraged coaches and mat officials to share their ideas and concerns - something St. Joseph Valley Officials Association members and their guests did at a forum earlier this week in Mishawaka.

The IHSAA has made sportsmanship a point of emphasis and Faulkens has noticed marked improvement in that area.

Faulkens may be biased, but he has a particular appreciation for the IHSAA state wrestling tournament - one of 21 state tournaments sponsored annually by the association.

"It's something that is special," says Faulkens of an event that begins this year with sectionals on Feb. 1 and culminates with the State Finals Feb. 21-22 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. "It's magical. It deserves the respect (the officials and coaches gave it at the SJVOA gathering)."

Faulkens, a 1980 South Bend LaSalle High School graduate, was impressed with how officials and coaches were willing to discuss issues, procedures and techniques in a civil manner.

"You care enough to sit down and talk to teach other," Faulkens told the group. "When you stop talking, that's when we have problems. I don't want us to have problems."

Faulkens said talking away from the heat of battle tends to be more productive.

"What we're hearing is the coaches want consistency and the officials want the coaches to understand that they are compelled to enforce the rules," said Faulkens. "They can't make judgements or assumptions not based on the rules.

"You have to call the rule as it stands."

Faulkens stressed that as a member of the National Federation of High School Associations, the IHSAA is bound to make sure its officials call the game as it is spelled out in the rule book.

"(Officials) have to follow the same mechanics so there is uniformity and consistency no matter where you are in the state of Indiana," said Faulkens. "That's what we've been harping on across all the sports - mechanics, uniformity and consistency."

One of the men presiding over the SJVOA meeting was Henry Wilk, a former IHSAA state champion and long-time coach at Penn High School as well as an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Associaton Hall of Famer.

Wilk, who has devoted almost five decades to the sport, called wrestling "the last bastion of discipline."

Faulkens echoed that sentiment.

"We need wrestling," said Faulkens. "We need those sports that teach discipline, toughness and courage. There are some sports that are getting a lot of popularity that don't.

"(The IHSAA is) an education-based entity. We're teaching all the time. The lessons might not be single-leg takedown. They may be perseverance and courage. Those characteristics will last a lifetime."

Faulkens said the biggest change in Indiana wrestling in his four years on the job has been in improved sportsmanship.

Coaches have been behaving better toward officials.

Athletes have been more courteous toward one another.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether an athlete should shake the hand of the opposing coach after a match, but there is an insistence on shaking that of the other wrestler.

While it has not completely gone away, Faulkens has witnessed less belligerent behavior from coaches and athletes have curtailed their cursing on the mat.

As was discussed at the SJVOA meeting, there is a correct way to approach the scorer's table to discuss a call - for one thing it should come in the form of a question - and sportsmanship infractions will be penalized by taking away match or team points or even through disqualification.

"It's not (a coach's) job to be contrary," said Faulkens. "You should never have a coach yelling and screaming at the referee while action is going on.

"That's part of what we are trying to get coaches to understand."

Faulkens wants coaches to know that they are not the show, it's about the wrestlers on the mat.

This season, Faulkens has only fielded a couple unsportsmanlike complaints in his office - way down from a year ago.

"It is competitive as ever, but the sportsmanship is less of an issue than it was four years ago when I started," said Faulkens. "The reason why were are seeing it have an effect is the coaches have taken it to heart and the officials are taking it to heart and enforcing it."

Communication and cooperation are the keys.