Mat coaches want more kids at states – here’s a way

The state’s wrestling coaches have floated a proposal to add four entrants to the state bracket, meaning 20, rather than 16, would be in Hershey on opening day each March.

Call it wrestling’s “First Four.”

The plan, as put forth, would add one qualifier from each region (not sure what Class AAA, where there are five regions, would do) in each weight class. Because, obviously, the sixth-place wrestler from a large region is being denied a shot at state glory.

It’s at best a feel-good effort designed to give 112 more kids a chance to say “I got to Hershey.” At worst, it’s pandering to the entitlement crowd that sees the postseason as an extension, not a reward.

You want more kids at states? Here’s how: Expand the classifications, and cut the four-week postseason down to three.

Wrestling is the rare sport that looks less at district outcome than regional, allowing the best to get through the process and appear in the championship event. Once the kids get there, they need win only two of their first three matches to clinch medal status.

But what if, instead of two classifications with 16 wrestlers in each bracket – or 20, as proposed – there were three classes with a dozen each? That’s a split between what we have now, and the addition of four the coaches want.

Presumably, the coaches aren’t asking for 9th- and 10th-place medals – although that would likely be next – but a six-medal event with three classes would mean two more placewinners overall than we have currently.

Yes, the tournament would likely have to start a day earlier, but it could be an all-classification elimination round that sets up three sessions on each of the successive days – smaller sessions, which would surely make it easier on almost everyone involved.

Wrestling as a whole is in the neighborhood with other sports that have three classes (the PIAA says it’s based on the number of schools sponsoring the sport, but offers no magic number to force a new division). Wrestling (489 schools) is smaller than three-division sports like soccer (536 girls, 572 boys) and cross country (560).

But then, track and field (606) is offered by more schools than football (581), which has four classifications to track’s three. Guess it’s also about how much money the PIAA can make selling tickets.

To get the 12-man wrestling bracket, we’d need four regions in all three classes (hardly a problem); the top three in all of them go to states – you just have to divide them properly to achieve the goal of equitable opportunity the PIAA strives for.

Regional tournaments could be cut to a day by accepting only the top three from each of three districts, and then maybe a wildcard at each weight class. The wildcards could be selected not by district but by quality, using a power-ranking system.

Or we could just leave it alone. It’s not like the wrestling tournament isn’t one of the best in the nation – why water it down for the sake of assuaging someone’s ego?


Wrestling fans from Districts 5, 6 and 7 may need to change their plans in February – rumor has it the Class AA Southwest regional may move from Johnstown to Indiana, Pa.

Johnstown has been a good home for the tournament, except for the year a new management company took over the venerable Cambria County War Memorial and double booked, forcing an accelerated schedule and a Saturday afternoon final.

But it’s old, it’s dark, it’s cold – more so than Giant Center, the state venue that also has a hockey rink under the mats – and parking can be difficult for the downtown arena, which has none of its own.

Word is, the Kovalchick Complex, a new arena at Indiana (Pa.) University, would like to host the wrestling, and there was some thought it might have been shifted before the 2014 event.

There is one benefit to such a move: It would end speculation that the WPIAL will try to get the tournament into a newer, nicer Pittsburgh-area venue. The region comprises 130 schools, 84 of which are in District 7.


Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at