Changes to mat calender cause concern

The Ohio High School Athletic Association made a decision recently that infuriated wrestling coaches. It’s decision to switch the state wrestling tournament from its annual Thursday through Saturday format to Friday through Sunday did not sit well with coaches, especially those involved in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference.

I’ve been attending the state wrestling tournament in Columbus for the past several years. I’ve found the Schottenstein Center to be very accessible. The tournament itself runs like a well-oiled machine; and the staff — both OHSAA and arena — are very accommodating.

My question, why the change? Why try to fix something that isn’t broke and hasn’t had any hitches over the years?

“Recently we moved the wrestling state tournament a week later so we aren’t competing with the Arnold Sports Festival downtown and use of the Schott by the OSU men’s ice hockey team in their postseason,” Jerry Snodgrass, OHSAA executive director, said. “We had already published the future basketball season calendars for several years and we determined we couldn’t move the basketball seasons a week later right away, so for these next few years, the wrestling and girls basketball state tournaments will be on the same weekend.”

What? Two state tournaments on the same weekend?

“Starting the state tournament on Friday has been an internal discussion point for a long time,” Tyler Brooks, OHSAA director of sport management and the OHSAA’s wrestling administrator, explained. “Starting on Friday will mean less school and work time will be missed by those coming to the state tournament. This will also help with the state tournament staff and the Schottenstein Center’s staff working the event. In addition, the change will help avoid traffic and parking congestion on Thursday around the OSU campus, especially the nearby OSU medical center, which uses some of the Schottenstein Center parking lots and other nearby parking areas.”

While some of the above reasons are legit, some raised my eyebrows, as well as those of area coaches.

OK. Starting the tournament a day later will allow student-athletes and fans to attend school on Thursday. It will also allow parents, grandparents and other family members to work on Thursday. It will also avoid some parking and traffic problems as the girls basketball tournament is most likely headed across the Olentangy River to St. John Arena. I agree with all of those points.

Here’s where our thinking differs.

For argument’s sake, let’s say a wrestler from anywhere outside a 2-hour radius of Columbus qualifies for the state finals in the heavyweight division on Sunday night. It’s going to be a pretty long trip home afterwards. Does the OHSAA really think these athletes are going to be in school when the bell rings awfully early Monday morning? I don’t.

Brooks also explained that the OHSAA will make modifications to the state tournament schedule so the championship matches on Sunday evening conclude in a timely manner, allowing participants and fans to return home Sunday night if they so choose.

The only way I could see this working is if the state finals were held in the afternoon, let’s say 3 p.m. The evening session usually runs approximately three hours.

The state wrestling tournament has traditionally been held on the first weekend in March, but the growing Arnold Sports Festival brings in more than 200,000 people to Columbus, making hotel rooms and other accommodations much more expensive.

Here’s what some OVAC coaches think about the decision.

“It’s always difficult when you have change and you are used to the tournament being the same days and schedules for a long time. It will give the wrestlers an extra day to get down to weight, but also an extra to manage your weight if your already down,” Steubenville head coach Mike Blackburn said. “One of the reasons the OHSAA gave said that it’s one less day of missed school and work for some parents. But if the finals are on normal time or pushed back a half-hour means a lot of schools won’t get back from the state tournament until after midnight on Sunday and have to be at school on Monday.”

Bellaire’s Andrew Lamotte doesn’t like the change one bit.

“I am furious that the state decided to hold a championship on Sunday. The powers to be keep asking us coaches our options year after year but we never get anything we tell them . Year after year they send us surveys about how we can make the sport better, we keep complaining the season is too long … three weeks too long.

“I don’t care where the tournament is or about the Schottenstein Center, we want a shorter season. Now they have enough nerve to move the finals to the day of rest? We are a small town that still believes in our Christian and Catholic traditions. Sometimes during the season we have a open lifting on Sundays. I feel bad doing that but there is never enough time in the week to get it done … what needs to get done. It’s always after church, later in the day, and never mandatory, because I know in this a small town. God and family still matters.”

“I am not a fan of the switch for several reasons,” Union Local’s Zach Powell added. “I feel like Saturday night is the time when the most people can come to watch these athletes compete for a state title. Wrestling in the state championship is kind of a big deal, especially in Ohio, and Sunday evening is not the prime time this should be showcased.

“With travel from across the state it is going to be more of a burden for people to come and make it home at a decent hour on Sunday night for people to get home and prepare for the start of the work week on Monday morning,” he continued. “This is going to hurt attendance no doubt. Athletes and their families should be able to have the time Saturday after the competition and Sunday to celebrate their success with their families.

“Most schools have policies about prohibiting practicing on Sundays let alone traveling across the state to compete, as they should. Sunday is supposed to be a day of relaxation spent with family. Some choose to participate in athletics on Sundays but many do not for various reasons.

“Also I do not know why coaches and schools were not offered some input on the change. I personally knew nothing of the change until it came out in a memo from OHSAA a few weeks ago. All in all, I think it is a poor move. The explanation for the move was mainly due to the traffic coinciding with the Arnold Classic. Well the tournament is still running on Friday and Saturday which will be the biggest traffic days, so I am not seeing how moving to Friday-Sunday is going to relieve that.”

Indian Creek’s Brandon Pendleton said, “Personally, I am not a fan of the change and I am quite upset about it. I understand the scheduling conflict, but I have always been a firm believer that Sundays are reserved for family and faith. I know I am probably old school in that thinking, but it is the way that I was raised. It is also how I am raising my children. I already commit a lot of time to high school athletics and they are a very important part of my life, but once again I have to prioritize wrestling over my family and faith. My family has made many sacrifices due to the nature of coaching, and now OHSAA is demanding coaches, athletes, and fans to make another sacrifice.

“I would say they were “asking” for more but to my knowledge they didn’t ask they just dictated the change. I am all for change if it is for the best, but I feel that this is only in the best interest of OSU rather than for the wrestling community. Secondly, we have always stayed to watch the finals then make the drive home from Columbus to Wintersville. We usually leave the Schott around 10 p.m. and that gets us home around 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m., weather pending. One year it was closer to 3 a.m. due to snow. We probably should have stayed in Columbus, but that wasn’t in the budget. Now rather than having a day to rest, I will have to be ready to go back to work on Monday morning.

“Finally, I feel that the season is already too long. I would like to see the state tournament moved to the last weekend in February or the first weekend in March. However, I know the March weekend is out due to the Arnold Classic being in Columbus at that time. Unfortunately, I don’t have a clear solution to the problem, but I feel that there has to be a better way to solve this than what OHSAA has dictated. I prefer the Schott since it is centrally located, but would not be opposed to moving the tournament to a different venue even if that would mean more travel time.

Hopefully OHSAA will re-evaluate their decision and find a solution that works better than what they have implemented. ”

“Personally, I am not a fan of it. I do not believe high school athletics should take place on a Sunday,” St. Clairsville’s Joel Sansone stressed. “I also have a hard time believing they are doing it for a reason that “student-athletes won’t miss 2 days of school.”

Barnesville’s Jayson Stephen replied, “I think it’s bad. Why? Because you are wrestling on a Sunday which you can not do unless it’s a state event and the main reason you shouldn’t on Sunday because it’s time for church. Second is I will have to spend more money for a hotel room for Saturday night than a Wednesday night. Third, is getting back late on Sunday and still missing work or school on Monday.

“It’s just the craziest thing I’ve heard of and I don’t like it one bit. Not good for the sport of wrestling.”

“There are two sides on what I think — a negative and a positive,” Buckeye Local’s Willie Saxton added. “The negative I know from being a young wrestler to competing now coaching that it’s been Thursday-Saturday.

“I see the positive in it because in the end they are student-athletes. Trying to not miss much school is a great thing. We’ve always got to keep that in mind while being an athlete also the coach has to know that as well. I’m for it (the move).”

I guess only time will tell!