Districts no longer in Class BThe differences between then and now were just too big to ignore. Eliminating the district wrestling tournament and combining it into one region tournament was the right decision, according to longtime coach John Hansen and other area coaches.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
The differences between then and now were just too big to ignore.
Eliminating the district wrestling tournament and combining it into one region tournament was the right decision, according to longtime coach John Hansen and other area coaches.
Hansen, a Freeman native and Burke/Gregory’s head wrestling coach, remembers the packed gymnasiums at the district tournament 20 and 30 years ago. He talks about all the schools that used to have the sport and have since dropped it. But most of all, he remembers all the competition and the full brackets in nearly every weight class.
“Last year’s district pretty much convinced me that we don’t have the volume of kids that we once had,” Hansen said. “Some of the districts were pretty much pointless. … It all boils down to a numbers problem right now.”
Last weekend was the first time since 1973 the state did not have a high school district wrestling tournament, which was the first of two steps to qualify for the state. In recent history, wrestling numbers have declined so much that some district tournaments had only three wrestlers at certain weights, although each district was expected to advance four wrestlers per weight class to the next round.
Instead, all wrestlers bypassed the district round this year and went straight to regions, where the top four wrestlers in each of the 14 weight there are four Class B region tournaments across the state. Locally, Wagner and Salem will host regions.
“I think it was a good move for our state,” Wagner wrestling coach Chas Welch said. “The district back in its time was absolutely necessary, but now we can get our state qualifiers out of one tournament. That’s going to make the region tough and exciting, just like it always was.”
Rise and fall of the district tournament in Class B
For Class B wrestling, the district tournament started in February 1974, three years after the South Dakota High School Activities Association split schools into two classes, Class A and B, which are still used today. In Class A, teams don’t have districts and go straight to regions.
The sport saw a boom of participation in the 1970s and ’80s, when wrestling was at its peak in the state.
“There were full teams and we’re talking about schools that don’t even have wrestling anymore,” Hansen said. “Avon, Hurley, Mount Vernon, Corsica all used to have teams and they were by themselves, unlike the co-ops some of them are in now. There used to be 60 to 65 schools in the Class B ranks that had wrestling and everyone had full teams. But that certainly hasn’t been the case the last few years.”
In 2008, athletic directors voted to eliminate the district tournament by a 43-2 vote beginning in 2010. But at the 2009 Class B state wrestling tournament at a coaches’ meeting, a vote was conducted and a nearly unanimous decision showed coaches wanted to keep districts because of the addition of five teams that dropped from Class A to Class B. Later that year, athletic directors overturned their decision from the previous vote and the district tournament was back on.
“I was against it the first time they tried to get rid of it,” McCook Central/Montrose coach Scott Andahl said. “Numbers were dwindling so much, but it wasn’t time to go to a big region then. It would have been too big. It’s a little bit different now.”
‘Don’t think we’re ever going back’
In a poll conducted by The Daily Republic, eight of 10 wrestling coaches interviewed for this story agreed eliminating the district tournament was a good decision.
Bon Homme coach Mark Stoebner and Lyman coach Chad Johnson were the two coaches who said they would like to keep districts around. Stoebner believes with the decline in participation, eliminating the first round of the postseason is the right move, but he thinks it should be two to three years from now.
Bon Homme was a part of the same district as Burke/Gregory, Wagner, Winner and Parkston, all schools with traditionally strong wrestling programs.
“It was inevitable,” Stoebner said. “I don’t think we’re ever going back, so we’re going to have to make it work as a region.”
Johnson’s team did not have a tough district tournament last year. He said every wrestler that weighed in qualified for regions. This year, there are too many question marks headed into the region tournament, Johnson said, with one of the most controversial topics being seeding.
In the past, wrestlers would be seeded in the district round and would wrestle for the top four spots. Then in regions, the winner of one district would wrestle the fourth-place finisher from the connecting district in the first round and the second seeds would wrestle the third seeds.
Saturday, wrestling coaches will have to discuss seeding for up to 14 wrestlers per weight class.
“One of the things we’re running up against is there are region opponents wrestled this year,” he said. “Before you had your draw after the district round and you knew where you were going to go and who you’d have to beat.
“I think the seeding during regions might be a nightmare, but I’m a creature of habit. I think this is going to be a weird adjustment to get used to.”
What about the 5-match rule?
When wrestling gets under way Saturday morning, it will be double-elimination with the top four wrestlers earning a spot to the state tournament. The Class B state tournament is Feb. 22-23 in Aberdeen this year.
Welch and Andahl expect a long, grueling tournament, but nothing unexpected. Welch estimated last year’s district tournament was completed in about five hours. He believes this year’s region tournament should be done in eight to nine hours.
One of the problems coaches brought up when discussing the elimination of districts was wrestlers competing in too many matches in one day. The National Federation of State High School Associations rule says no wrestler can represent the school in more than five matches, which includes forfeits, in one day.
The South Dakota rule deviates from that rule and says a contestant may not wrestle more than a total of 30 minutes, excluding overtime, in a single day. If a contestant starts a match under the 30-minute limit, they will be allowed to finish the match.
But what will happen if wrestlers exceed 30 minutes of wrestling?
“It shouldn’t be an issue because the wrestleback matches are five minutes instead of six and it seems like there are always pins that help eliminate from time,” Welch said.
SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said it’s a highly unlikely scenario in which a wrestler competes for more than 30 minutes Saturday. But it is possible if a given weight class had 13 or more entries, and one of the wrestlers who was defeated in the first round were to make it all the way through wrestlebacks and into the third-fourth place match. That would make a wrestler to win four consecutive matches after the initial, opening-round defeat.
Krogstrand said the wrestling advisory committee didn’t think that this would be too terrific of an issue, with only two or three regions even having this possibility of an outcome, and very few “full” weight classes in those regions.
“At that point, since the wrestler would be a state qualifier regardless of the outcome of that match, if an individual would have exceeded the 30-minute rule, we would simply declare him or her the fourth-place finisher, and the other wrestler the third-place finisher,” Krogstrand said.
Merging into regions
Hansen is sending a full team to the Region 3B tournament, which starts at 10 a.m. Saturday in Wagner.
“This year we’re fortunate to have 22 kids out,” said Hansen, who has coached wrestling 39 years at Gregory, which formed a cooperative with Burke 10 years ago. “We can fill a team and that’s not been the case the last few years. We’ve been one or two weight classes short.”
He added that he’s just not seeing as many dedicated athletes as there were when the sport saw its growth spurt. The district tournament is likely finished forever, he said.
Hansen expects a highly competitive tournament this weekend and he’s interested in how smoothly everything will be run in the first year of bypassing districts.
“I don’t think anyone can sneeze at the quality of wrestlers we put out, but the quantity of wrestles is in question,” he said. “You talk about a difference between back then and now, it’s just huge.”