It’s been a season-long tradition for Nicholas Fant to drop to one knee and offer a two-second prayer before his wrestling matches.
But on Tuesday, that two-second prayer got the Wake Forest-Rolesville High School student in trouble.
Fant was about to compete in the 220-pound class in the first round of the North Carolina playoffs. He jogged to the center of the mat, took and knee, prayed and was then cited by the referee.
The referee hit Fant with a stalling warning for delaying the match – a charge that cost the high school wrestler a point. The junior wrestler eventually lost the match.
Sam Hershey, the high school’s wrestling coach, was not happy with the call – and neither were fans.
He said he would not comment but would inquire about the spirit of the rule and its implementation. He said he wouldn’t report the official’s decision to the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
NCHSAA Commissioner David Whitfield told Fox News the referee made the right call.
“When the referee called them to the center of the mat – at that point it’s time to wrestle,” he said. “By rule, the official was well within his rights to issue a stall warning.”
Whitfield said the warning had nothing to do with religion.
“It had nothing to do with prayer or anything related to a faith-based scenario,” he said. “It had everything to do with the rules of wrestling.”
Whitfield conceded that referees do have some leeway.
“You have discretion in all rules as it relates to wrestling,” he said. “But in this case, one of the wrestlers was in the circle waiting.”
But not all wrestling officials agreed with the call – including David Culbreth of the Southeastern Wrestling Officials Association.
“David Culbreth believes in God and on my mat – God gets two seconds,” he told Fox News, apologizing for speaking in third-person.
Culbreth said he would have given the teenager time to pray.
“I’m not going to call that,” he said. “But if it turned into a 60-second prayer – he’d probably get a verbal warning – or I might try to say ‘Amen’ for him.”
Culbreth said when it comes to wrestling and high school athletics – he believes in a specific rule.
“There’s people of all different faiths and we are to respect those faiths,” he said.
With reporting from Associated Press