High School Sports

Oakdale wrestler says he was 'forcefully removed' from team. Coach disagrees.

Oakdale's Bronson Harmon holds his opponent down in the 154 finals during the Engel Wrestling Tournament in Escalon at Escalon High School on January 9, 2016.
Oakdale's Bronson Harmon holds his opponent down in the 154 finals during the Engel Wrestling Tournament in Escalon at Escalon High School on January 9, 2016. The Modesto Bee

The Oakdale High wrestling team may be without one of its top talents, Cal Poly SLO-bound senior Bronson Harmon, when the postseason begins in three weeks.

Harmon is a two-time defending Masters champion, CIF State medalist and the second-ranked wrestler in Northern California at 160 pounds, according to SportStars Magazine.

Yet, his future with the Mustangs is in doubt.

On Sunday, Harmon tweeted he was "forcefully" removed from the team by coach Steve Strange after a disagreement about his weight.

"How would you feel if you were a 2-time section masters champion and placed 4th at state at wrestling and your coach forcefully kicked you off the team due to the fact that you couldn’t cut 30 pounds to make weight?" he tweeted. "Not on the oakdale wrestling team anymore due to the coach."

His mother, DeeAnn Harmon, said her son, a two-sport athlete and key member of the school's football team, was asked to cut too much weight. He began the wrestling season at 190 pounds, and went to drastic lengths to make 160 pounds at last week's Battle for the Belt at Temecula Valley.

In an email to The Bee, DeeAnn Harmon asked, "How much is too much weight to cut? Is 30 pounds not enough? In less than three weeks?"

"He got (to 160s) for about five minutes, just to make weigh-ins," she added. "To get there, he was running four miles in the morning, four miles in the evening, going to wrestling practice and not eating. It was a safety concern for us."

Strange seemed shocked and disappointed by the news. He denied removing Harmon from the team, and contended the Harmon family hand-picked Bronson's weight class at the start of the season. He said all parties agreed that 160s gave Bronson the best shot at postseason glory.

"I want him to wrestle at (160s), but I didn't pick that weight class for him," Strange said. "He did ... and his parents did. This is a big bomb to drop."

Strange said the Harmon family would rather Bronson compete at 170s or 182s. There's just one problem with that request: The Mustangs have wrestlers entrenched at those weights – regional No. 1s Gabe Martinez (170s) and Cody Golding (182s) – and "you can only have one guy at a weight class for league in three weeks. It's a tough deal," he added.

DeeAnn Harmon said the family agreed only that Bronson would try to make weight at 160s – "We never promised," she added – and that Bronson was initially offered a wrestle-off with Martinez for the 170-pound weight class but that Strange rescinded that offer.

"When he said there wasn't going to be a wrestle-off, we couldn't believe it," she said. "This person, who has been training my son for so many years, we couldn't believe he would do this in his senior year."

Strange hopes Bronson will return in time for the Valley Oak League championships Feb. 10, the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III tournament Feb. 17, and a run at a third individual Masters title Feb. 23-24.

"We've got three weeks to the league tournament and I was hoping to be back to work today," Strange said. "I'd love to have him back. The door is open, but we do have a team here.

"This isn't what you want to be dealing with at this point in the season. I'm not sure what kind of distraction this will be (in the wrestling room). It's a kid-by-kid basis. I know this doesn't help us. We have a team full of guys working and they got big goals. When you lose a wrestler like Bronson, it doesn't help."

Without Bronson, Oakdale remains one of the deepest teams in the state and a favorite to win its second Masters team title in school history.

The Mustangs boast five wrestlers ranked in the state's top-10, including reigning Bee Wrestler of the Year and No. 1 195-pounder Colbey Harlan, who has impressed with tournament victories at The Doc B at Buchanan High and Temecula Valley High's Battle for the Belt.

The others ranked in The California Wrestler's state top-10 are: freshman Henry Porter, No. 10 at 120s; junior Ricky Torres, No. 6 at 138s; senior Jake Ryan, No. 4 at 145s; and Martinez, a junior, No. 6 at 170s.

Bronson is No. 6 in the state at 160s, his season slowed by an injured ankle sustained during football season.

Strange is hoping Bronson, who was 3-2 at the Battle for the Belt, will return to the team.

"For me, it's 'Let's keep working. We still have a few weeks left,' " Strange said.

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