With an unusual idea three decades ago, John Graham and Jim Casey may have saved wrestling.
But in another way, they may have killed it.
Graham and Casey, crabbers from Hampton, Va., wanted to find a way to draw attention to the world's oldest sport in their state, specifically to highlight the efforts of their sons and others who were dominant in a sport that received little attention south of the Mason-Dixon.
Their idea: To have a wrestling tournament in which teams advance, not individuals. It never had been done before. The pair put together the Virginia Duals, which was wrestled for the 30th time in January.
In doing so, the duo created a renaissance in wrestling, bringing attention to the sport in areas where it had not been a dominant force in the past, and creating a way to highlight the strategy of wrestling as a team sport. When dual meet tournaments finally were approved at the high school level, waning popularity in the sport was replaced by a resurgence.
Unfortunately, the victim of all this has been ... the dual meet - the head-to-head meetings that packed many a high school gym in my youth. Juniata wrestled just four individual duals through the winter season, and one of them was a late add-on. East Juniata had five. Indian Valley will have wrestled a single team eight times, and Lewistown 10, if the scheduled meets postponed over the past week all are made up.
It all comes down to a system of points - although the Indians, for example, had just four duals, their regular-season dual meet record was 24-0. The rest of those matches came in tournaments - dual meet tournaments.
In the past, dual meets made up the bulk of the season, and were an exciting way for fans - even casual fans - to enjoy wrestling. But it seems the stands are filled mainly with wrestlers' parents when that same team spends eight hours on a Saturday wrestling five opponents. Tournaments - there were a few in the season - used to be wrestled individually, rather than on a team basis.
Blame the points system the PIAA uses to determine how many meets a team can wrestle. Those five dual meets at a day-long tournament count as just a couple, the same as in individual tournament - in which some kids may go 0-2 and be done for the day. The coaches understandably want more matches for all the kids.
Indian Valley used to participate in a tournament in Selinsgrove that found a happy medium between the two - the weight classes were wrestled using different bracket formats based on the number of entrants in each class, so every wrestler got a minimum number of matches. The best wrestlers in each class, regardless of school, was the champion.
Perhaps it's time for the PIAA to rethink the way it measures the number of events allowed in a season in an effort to save the venerable dual meet (and bring back the excitement of those old individual tourneys, too).
Another good-bad of wrestling was displayed this season when Juniata wrestled Line Mountain, and Eagles grappler Travis Erdman did not weigh in for the match, because his coach wanted him at a lower weight.
It's always been part of wrestling to make weight, and the real criminals in this story are the coaches of the past who made guys sit in sweatboxes with rubber suits until they died - literally.
Because of past indiscretions by overzealous coaches, rules have been put into place that limit the amount of weight a wrestler can lose over the course of time, with a minimum limit in measured body fat percentage, as a means of protecting the health and welfare of the wrestler. It's a lot of paperwork, and it's a pain to a coach who needs a kid to fill a hole - look, for example, at the forfeits given for most of the season by local teams, always at or near the same weight class.
When Erdman failed to make weight - or at least, the weight his coach wanted - the coach told a reporter from Shamokin that he considered it a "disciplinary" issue. I consider that a poor choice of words, to say the least - although, knowing the history of the program across the Susquehanna, I can't say I believe the coach would ever have endangered one of his charges.
The good news: I'm told Erdman returned to the lineup at what he considered a more natural weight, with the blessing of the coach. I expect to see the former state placewinner back in Hershey in March.
The problem here may just be that we have too many weight classes - we've gone from 12 in my day to 14, and there seem to be less kids to fill those slots at many schools. College only has 10 weights.
But that can be a topic for another day.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.