Miller: Why District 3 should keep wrestling sectionals in Class 2A (column)
District 3 will make a big decision about the future of the Class 2A district wrestling tournament on Tuesday.
That decision should be an easy one.
Don't change anything.
That's what 30 out of the 31 coaches want. That should be enough. Oh, and it's also the choice that makes the most sense.
Here are the options the district can choose from Aug. 9:
(1.) Keep the postseason format the same, with one-day sectional tournaments the first week, followed by districts the next week;
(2.) Switch to a two-week district event. Everyone would wrestle through the quarterfinals at one site the first weekend, then finish the tournament alongside Class AAA the second week; or
(3.) Get rid of sectionals entirely and wrestle a three-day district tournament the second week.
The district wants to see the third option, with the tournament concluding with medal bouts for both classes on Saturday morning at Giant Center. That plan would allow for the annual hall of fame inductions to take place in front of a larger crowd before the semifinals on Friday night, and the finals would end Saturday in time for arena staff to prepare for a Hershey Bears game that night.
Class 2A coaches have been asking for the district tournament to be moved to the Giant Center for years, said District 3 wrestling chairman Randy Umberger, and removing the sectional tournaments and starting the district tournament on a Thursday could help make that happen.
Very few people will object to moving the district tournament out of "the old barn" (Hersheypark Arena) and into the Giant Center. But the coaches — who know this tournament better than anyone — don't want to see that move happen at the expense of the sectional tournaments.
The coaches want to see the first option. Northern Lebanon coach Rusty Wallace, the liaison between the coaches and the district, emailed all 31 coaches a ballot to vote for whether they wanted to keep sectionals. Thirty coaches voted to keep them, according to Wallace and several coaches.
“Sectionals gives kids a chance to be a part of their school district's history," Eastern York coach Dan Garner said. "At Eastern, we have a banner hanging up in our school listing sectional champs going back to 1967.”
Why else would the district want to eliminate the Class 2A sectional tournaments? Size of the brackets, for one thing.
The top six wrestlers advance to districts. Last year, that meant about half of all sectional participants advanced, and in several weight classes it was more than half. At last year's Section I tournament, the heavyweight class had only seven competitors. Then the following week, eight of the 14 district finals were rematches of sectional finals.
Those issues would still exist next season, but coaches expect it to a much lesser extent. ELCO, Kennard-Dale, James Buchanan, Middletown and Susquehanna Township all move down from Class 3A this winter, raising the number of teams in Class 2A from 26 to 31.
“I thought sectionals was great the way it was before, and adding two or three new teams to each section will make our brackets nice," Delone Catholic coach Frank Sneeringer said. " A lot of those teams coming down have full rosters. I would almost guarantee you that almost every bracket will have 12 to 15 kids with the new teams joining.
“I thought we were heading in the right direction. I didn’t even think getting rid of sectionals made sense even when we had 26 teams. Now that we’re up to 31, I don’t even think it’s a question. If we would had dropped below 24, then I think it’s worthy of a discussion.”
Is it perfect? No. But it beats the other options on the table.
Aside from the awkwardness of a two-day tournament, scrapping sectionals for a two-weekend district tournament creates more travel. It would also pull wrestlers out of school for an extra Friday.
Getting rid of sectionals entirely for a three-day district tournament makes a little more sense, but it will also cause wrestlers to miss an extra day of school, this time on a Thursday. It also adds a week to an already-long gap for most teams between the end of the regular season and the start of the individual postseason.
And the coaches — who, again, know this tournament better than anyone — don't like the idea of a 31-wrestler bracket at each weight class.
“For a wrestler who is average, it’ll look too big to even want to compete in it," Sneeringer said. "If you think about it, if you’re a spring athlete, are you gonna stick around for a few weeks to wrestle a 31-person bracket when you can start baseball now? I think kids are gonna leave the room.”
The district also wants to showcase the hall of fame inductions on Friday night, and showcase the best wrestlers on a Saturday morning to wrestle all the medal rounds and be done in time for an evening Bears game. That model would have some similarities to the way the final day of the state tournament showcases the best wrestlers, which is one of the most special scenes in all of Pennsylvania high school sports.
“For a lot of teams, our regular season ends almost a month earlier (than sectionals) before team districts," Garner said. "It’s hard to stay at your peak wrestling ability for that long. Even though the last day of districts might be a showcase, you’re not really putting the kids in position where they’re at their best to be showcased.”
The showcase idea comes from the right place, but should kids really miss an extra day of school, lose a week of the season and miss out on the chance to wrestle for a sectional title just to make it happen?
The coaches say no. Common sense says no.
On Aug. 9, District 3 should say no as well.