Like every high school wrestling coach across the state, Ignacio High School’s Jordan Larsen wants to see a season play out and culminate with the crowning of a state champion.
But the format currently being floated isn’t one he prefers.
CHSAA officials are considering a dual-only, 10-match maximum schedule with a shrunken postseason this winter. The plan, which was proposed last week, would be challenging for smaller programs such as Class 2A Ignacio, tucked away in the state’s southwest corner.
“Duals are almost impossible with small schools because of roster size,” Larsen said. “You have to also consider more travel and higher expenses all for just one match for a few kids.”
Last weekend coaches lobbied to push wrestling into CHSAA’s Season C for a better chance at a full season. But CHSAA stood firm in keeping it in Season B, which itself was pushed back last week to a February start amid rising coronavirus cases.
One of the main reasons for sticking with wrestling in the winter: Avoiding a logjam for schools that opted to play spring football.
“In trying to be equitable to all schools and athletes, leaving wrestling where it stands works,” CHSAA assistant commissioner Adam Bright said. “It wouldn’t be fair to schools that chose spring football because they made that choice with our calendar in place when given the choice by the governor. They might not have chosen that same season had they known what the variants were.”
Bright said with a baseline established, teams can build schedules with more certainty. Tournaments are unlikely, which creates additional pressure since programs often use those events to help fund their seasons and provide wrestlers up and down the roster with matches. However, triangulars and quad meets are still in the cards, while JV matches would happen directly after a varsity event.
“Duals wouldn’t be pretty or neat, but it is a baseline,” Bright said. “We are providing an opportunity for those student-athletes to compete, but we are chipping away to safely add more where we can double the matches and start getting to that 20-25 (match) range instead of 10.”
Scheduling might resemble something close to this year’s hectic college football season with no limits on classification or geography leading to never-before-seen matchups. Any season is better than no season, Bright said.
Tim Ottmann led Ponderosa High School to seven consecutive Class 5A state championships. Now the school’s principal, he thinks wrestling is in such a bind that this year’s move could impact retaining non-varsity athletes for years.
“I would like to see a task force from people who really know wrestling,” Ottmann said. “Get wrestlers, administrators, long-time officials and coaches to come together. In this case, it’s so unique that you have to go outside of the box. We also need to think about the lower-level athletes. … They won’t stick around very long if we don’t do something for them.”
As for a postseason, the new proposal would create a chance to wrestle for a championship with the possibility of a 16-person regional and eight-person state championship. A team dual state championship would be created in the scenario that the traditional route is not approved by CDPHE. The deadline to decide the format is March 1.
No matter the proposal it chooses, Ottman said CHSAA will have to remain creative. He suggested having seven weight classes compete and finish each day to limit possible exposure to COVID-19.
For Pomona head coach Sam Federico, having even a reduced state tournament would be a huge lift for every wrestler who steps onto a mat this season.
“The most important thing along with staying healthy, is for kids to experience a postseason,” said Federico, the reigning 5A coach of the year. “Kids are aiming for that title and some could become a four-timer or it’s their first go.”
Bright does not foresee any wholesale changes happening in the next month. CHSAA will partner with USA Wrestling when it meets with CDPHE in January to propose a safe way to maximize the schedule and avoid putting added stress on smaller programs like Ignacio.
“We have to look at the glass half-full, even if it is 10 duals,” Larsen said. “The truth is, wrestling is good for kids. I wouldn’t be doing it, nor would I think almost every coach in the state would be a part of it if they didn’t believe that it makes kids better human beings as a result.
“So, if there’s a chance to participate in any way, no matter the format, having a season would be such a positive in and of itself.”
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