Yokota High School officials refused to let its grapplers compete against their Robert D. Edgren counterparts in Saturday’s Zama American High School Invitational Tournament because one of Edgren’s wrestlers contracted a form of Herpes common to the sport.

Three international teams withdrew from the tournament, also citing health concerns.

The infected wrestler was held out of the tournament and other Edgren wrestlers tested clear of the virus, said Edgren principal Michael Johnson. Edgren disclosed the situation to other entrants and coaches and wrestlers from Kinnick, E.J. King and host Zama did choose to wrestle against the Misawa school, which won the tournament.

But Yokota chose to take a more “cautious” approach in case other Eagles team members had contracted the virus, principal Richard Schlueter said by telephone Saturday.

“This was a coach’s call,” he said of Yokota wrestling coach Brian Kitts’ decision to hold out his athletes. Asked if he supported Kitts’ decision, Schlueter replied, “I support my coaches.”

Edgren’s coach Justin Edmonds and the Eagles wrestlers were in transit back to Misawa from Zama on Saturday and could not be reached for comment, but Johnson said the wrestler in question was diagnosed with Herpes Gladiatorium — described by medical Web sites as an “occupational hazard” of wrestling — at the Misawa Air Base hospital.

Johnson declined to identify the wrestler but said that after the diagnosis, the school was notified immediately. “We began a review” of everything from the wrestler’s health history to the athletic department’s procedures for cleaning mats.

Whether to keep the team from the tournament “was our first thought, that if there was a chance it would circulate among our wrestlers, that we shouldn’t travel,” the principal said.

Medical personnel visited the school Thursday to check out the remaining wrestlers, who were cleared to compete, Johnson said, adding, “I got a clean bill of health for our wrestlers, and I trust my doctors up here.

“I felt good about it,” he said, adding that he consulted with Schlueter and supported his decision to pull his wrestlers from matches with Edgren. “I wish it hadn’t gone that way,” Johnson said, “but it did."

Medical Web sites describe Herpes Gladiatorium as treatable with medication. But as with other forms of Herpes, it’s lifelong once acquired. According to, Herpes Gladiatorium is contractable by direct skin-to-skin contact with a wrestler bearing active lesions. It’s not airborne and cannot be spread from mat to skin, according to the site.

Further precautions were taken at the tournament site, said Zama American principal Jerry Ashby. Two doctors from Zama’s Army medical clinic were at Saturday’s weigh-in, checked every wrestler “student by student” and cleared each to compete.

Even after that, Ashby said, Yokota “still had questions” about the health and safety of its competitors.

He called Kitts’ decision to hold out against Edgren “their prerogative. We elected to wrestle as did the other schools. ... We had no problem with their decision. They had a difference of opinion as to what was safe.”

Kinnick’s Richard Huffer said, “Every possible precaution was taken and we went forward.”

Huffer had Yokosuka Naval Base physicians check out his wrestlers, he added, and they and “the doctors at Zama did a thorough job. I felt confident that we were OK.”

DODDS-Japan district superintendent Bruce Derr said, “If the principal or coach felt it was dangerous ... they would not have come down. I felt comfortable with the precautions being taken, and I respect the right of everybody to take the precautions they want. If the consequence of that is forfeiting, that’s their right. It’s a shame that happened, but Zama did everything to ensure it was safe.”

The event was reduced from eight teams to five when three Tokyo-area international schools, St. Mary’s International, American School In Japan and Christian Academy In Japan, bowed out of the tournament due to the same safety and health concerns that Yokota expressed.

“We opted to be conservative about it,” said John Hohenthaner, coach at ASIJ.

Edgren’s victory also was the first in-season invitational tournament title in the school’s history. The Eagles won six of 13 gold medals but only two of those finals actually were contested: Four of the gold medals came by walkover against Yokota foes. Edgren scored 93 team points while Yokota tied Nile C. Kinnick for second with 56 each.

“If anything comes out of this,” Johnson said, “I hope this sends a clear signal to every coach that not only should their mats be clean, but all coaches and wrestlers should be concerned about good hygiene.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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