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Combined state tournament returns for first time in 26 years

RAPID CITY--For the first time in 26 years, South Dakota is having a combined state wrestling tournament. And there's mixed opinions on the format. About 6,000 people were in the stands on Friday evening as the tournament entered the quarterfinal...

A general view of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Friday during the quarterfinal round at the South Dakota State Wrestling Tournament in Rapid City. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)
A general view of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Friday during the quarterfinal round at the South Dakota State Wrestling Tournament in Rapid City. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

RAPID CITY-For the first time in 26 years, South Dakota is having a combined state wrestling tournament.

And there's mixed opinions on the format.

About 6,000 people were in the stands on Friday evening as the tournament entered the quarterfinal and first round of wrestlebacks at the state wrestling tournament at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

The state had combined tournaments for about four years in the late-1980s, before the tournaments were held separately for Class A and Class B. Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Aberdeen have been the most common sites since then.

For ticketing, the state association put Class A fans on one side of the arena and the Class B fans on the other side. Then the matches for those respective classes were located on the opposite side of the arena, giving fans an easier vantage point to watch their wrestlers, even if they were a bit more removed. Wrestlers hung out on metal bleachers on the lower level until it was their time to take the mat.

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While the arena was about 85 percent full on Friday night, the South Dakota High School Activities Association said there's still tickets available for today's semifinal and championship sessions.

McCook Central/Montrose coach Scott Andal, who also serves on the sport's advisory committee, said he liked the format.

"I think it's been good," Andal said. "We've got a great crowd and fans get to see every kid wrestle if they want. We've got everyone in one place."

"It's a little tough to get kids from match to match just because there's a lot of people on the floor," he said. "But this is an environment that is a lot of fun. I think the kids are enjoying it."

Tim McCarthy, who is from Burke and is a father of one of the Burke/Gregory cheerleaders, said he's not a fan.

"I don't like it. There's too much going on and it's hard to follow the action," he said, near his seat in the far upper corner of the arena.

As for the cheerleaders, they can't get close to the mat because of the eight mats on the arena floor and because there's little room to move around alongside the mats. That's bad news for McCarthy's daughter to cheer for the Storm.

"That's not good for them. We had a hard time finding hotel rooms. I just thought the way they did it before worked fine and it didn't need to be changed," he said.

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A regular at the state wrestling tournament is former Salem wrestler Brian Skaff, who was the town's first state champion in 1985. He now lives in Spokane, Washington but has come back to the tournament every year for the last 14 years. He was dressed in a green McCook Central/Montrose shirt and cheering for his alma mater's team.

"I kind of like it," he said. "It means a lot to me and I know I got to wrestle against a lot of these guys who are now coaching 'A' teams. There's a lot of relationships in this sport to begin with and it's nice to have everyone under one roof."

He remembers being at those combined tournaments in the 1980s.

"It was a lot of fun then and I think kids now will enjoy this too," Skaff said.

The format will get at least a three-year trial. The 2016 and 2017 tournaments are expected to be held over two days in Sioux Falls at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

Mobridge-Pollock coach Scott Stone said he will be one that will reserve judgment on the format's success. He said he knows that Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota are all states that have combined wrestling tournaments among all classes and he said there's coaches that want that to happen in South Dakota. Along those lines, he said some coaches hope the tournament finds one location and stays there to provide some consistency. But that won't sit well with other communities, said Stone, a Watertown native.

"I know it was a big deal for Watertown to have it when they've had the tournament. This, it's a great environment," he said. "But we'll have to see exactly how it all works out."

Related Topics: WRESTLING
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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