With another winter storm bearing down on Western Washington, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) announced Friday morning that all 23 regional wrestling tournaments scheduled for Saturday across the state have been canceled.
In place of the regional tournaments, administrators will convert the Feb. 15-16 state tournament at the Tacoma Dome into a 32-person bracket format across all six classifications — 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A, 2B/1B, girls — instead of the traditional 16. A WIAA press release Friday said that details on the new Mat Classic format will be released by Monday morning.
The wrestlers who would have competed in Saturday’s regional tournaments will be added to the state tournament field.
In spite of the influx of wrestlers added to the field as a result of the decision, tournament officials are still expecting the tournament to be completed in two days.
Brian Smith, the WIAA’s administrator for wrestling, was unavailable for comment Friday.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet deal, because all of our guys were primed and ready to wrestle tomorrow,” said Marysville Pilchuck coach Craig Iversen, whose Tomahawks will make a run at a 3A team title next weekend. “With that in mind, the goal for regionals is to get to state, and everyone in our program is excited that more kids will have a chance to do that.”
Snohomish athletic director Mark Perry, who was inducted into the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association (WSWCA) Hall of Fame in 2010, was set to be the tournament director for a 3A regional hosted by the Panthers on Saturday. That event would have included the seven Wesco 3A North schools, Ferndale and Squalicum from the Northwest Conference, and the eight members of the Pierce County League.
Area schools were scheduled to compete at the following regionals: 4A Region 1 at Emerald Ridge High School; 3A Region 1 at Snohomish High School; 3A Region 2 at Inglemoor High School; 2A Region 3 at Washougal High School; 1A Region 1 at Meridian High School; 1B/2B Region 1 at Adna High School and Girls Region 1 at Sedro-Woolley High School.
Perry is also the 2A tournament manager for Mat Classic XXXI, and saw the WIAA’s decision evolve from both the local and state levels.
“First of all, everyone has the safety of our students in mind first,” Perry said. “We were ready to host a regional Saturday, and had all of the traveling teams booked into hotels in either Everett, Monroe or Snohomish for Friday night so nobody would be traveling Saturday morning, but the WIAA took the pressure off the local people with its decision. It was a big choice and a hard decision, but I think it will be a solid decision in the long run.”
Perry was engaged in logistical discussions with the other seven tournament managers, as well as Smith, all day Friday.
He said the most glaring needs to be addressed are how the 32-person brackets will be seeded and how the tournament schedule will be revamped to accommodate the extra athletes, coaches and fans.
“There’s a lot of logistical things that have to be figured out, but we have a lot of smart wrestling people, and we’re going to do the best job we can do,” Perry said.
Edmonds-Woodway coach Brian Alfi, a WSWCA board member, applauded the gumption of Smith, who spent 13 years as Bellingham High School’s wrestling coach before turning to administration, in making the decision.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have Brian Smith in charge,” Alfi said. “He’s not afraid to make tough decisions, and here we could have either had regionals in the snow and tell kids they have to get there, or make a 32-man bracket and see how it works out.”
The snowstorm that forced the WIAA’s hand in making this decision may have also offered a glimpse into the future.
Several area coaches said that a 32-person state tournament has long been sought by many in the wrestling community as a way to elevate the student-athlete experience by having more wrestlers compete at state. Instead of having a regional round that whittles 16 wrestlers in 14 weight classes down to eight, those coaches say, let them all compete in the Tacoma Dome.
“As a coach, you’re constantly trying to build a culture in your program, and reaching the state tournament gives kids a unique experience and a culminating moment for their seasons,” Alfi said. “Making it to the state tournament is a huge deal, and it impacts how kids treat their offseasons. Once they get a taste of what the state tournament is like, if we can have more kids say, ‘I’m a wrestler’ instead of ‘I wrestle’, it’s a big deal.”
“I believe this is a great opportunity for my group of kids and all the kids in our area,” Oak Harbor coach Larry Falcon said. “We can talk about what it’s like to be at the big dance with our underclassmen and have our athletes that have been there talk about it, but it doesn’t sink in until they’re there. Now more kids will have that chance. That’s what excites me.”