Parents Lawyer Up After Controversial Wrestling Call

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Allegations of unsportsmanlike conduct and possible referee bias boiled over after a sophomore high school wrestler was disqualified in a match that would have set him up to compete for a second straight state championship.

Hayden Halter transferred this year to Waterford (Wis.) High School, and with a No. 1 ranking at 120 pounds for most of the season, he seemed destined to do well at this year’s state championship. However, it was not to be, after the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association disqualified Halter from continuing his individual season with the Wolverines after he received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties while winning the 120-pound championship at the Southern Lakes Conference meet on Saturday.

The decision was contested by Halter, his coaches, his parents and local fans, and now Halter’s parents are considering hiring a lawyer to fight their son’s disqualification. 

Halter was docked three points in the championship match against sophomore Cade Willis of Union Grove. The referee of the match was Michael Arendt, who also serves as athletic director at St. Catherine’s and is a former teacher at Union Grove High School.

According to The Journal Times, Halter was up 7-1 in the third period with 20 second left. Halter and Willis stayed interlocked until the buzzer sounded. Arendt gave Willis a point for an escape, which made the final score 7-2, and Halter asked the Arendt about his decision to give Willis an extra point. 

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” Halter told the Journal Times. “To have an escape, you have to be totally separated from your opponent, and we were together in those final 20 seconds. I said to the ref, ‘What was that’ and he gave me an unsportsmanlike conduct call.” 

After the call was issued, Halter thought he had won, and he shook hands with Willis, then briefly flexed his muscles.

“(The officials) said I was flexing toward the crowd and taunting them, but I was flexing at my dad because I just won the match and I was excited,” Halter said. “To have the ref take this opportunity to go to state away from me; it’s personal.”

Halter’s coach, Tom Fitzpatrick thought it was inappropriate for Arendt to be officiating the match.

“I think there’s a conflict of interest with a referee that knows Cooper and Cade Willis,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think there’s a desire to bring a talented wrestler down for no reason because he’s showing emotion. And now the WIAA keeps adding to the list of things that Hayden allegedly did. Why did (Arendt) not recuse himself from the match?

“At first it was the taunting and the questioning of an official’s decision, now they’re saying that there was vulgar language used, that Hayden’s straps were down before he left the mat,” Fitzpatrick said. “It feels like collusion to me." 

Halter’s father, Shawn, was also unhappy with what transpired.

“I can’t let this die,” Shawn Halter said. “We are going to lawyer up and fight for Hayden to get back into action.”

For it’s part, the WIAA says the officials call stands and the ruling will not be overturned.

“In the official’s judgement, (Halter’s) actions were enough to be considered flagrant,” Labecki said. “It’s unfortunate, but we provide a reminder every year to the athletic directors of every school. Our hope is that the athletic director passes that information on to their coaches and the coaches pass it on to their players.”

Halter had been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct previously. In 2018, he was penalized for flexing at the crowd. His coach at the time said it should have been a non-call.

Fitzpatrick said the fight isn’t over.

“I thought we could diplomatically resolve this through video evidence, but clearly that’s not the case,” Fitzpatrick said. “I told Hayden that we are going to keep fighting for him and hopefully we can work something out.” 

The three lost points cost the Wolverines the team championship. Waterford’s revised scored was 260.5 points. Burlington finished with 262 points and won its second straight SLC title.

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