TACOMA — The 30th edition of Mat Classic, which got underway Friday at the Tacoma Dome, was Brian Smith’s first as the WIAA’s administrator for wrestling.
Smith, a Tacoma native and Fife High School alumnus, wrestled in high school and spent 13 years as Bellingham’s wrestling coach.
He then spent nearly six years as the Red Raiders’ athletic director before transitioning to an assistant executive director role with the WIAA.
Smith can see the sport through the eyes of a coach trying to do the best for his athletes, an athletic director trying to watch his spending and now as an administrator, trying to keep the first two groups happy.
As first-round action rolled on in the background, Smith spoke with The Herald about the state of wrestling in Washington, some major reforms he’s already helped enact and more that might be implemented in the next few years.
Coaches statewide, with Edmonds-Woodway coach and Washington State Wresting Coaches Association board member Brian Alfi especially vocal — have been clamoring for the addition of a day to the state tournament in place of the regional weekend. All wrestlers that qualify out of districts would just begin competing at the Tacoma Dome in a 32-athlete bracket on Thursday of state weekend. The coaches assert that benefits would include enhancing the state tournament experience for all qualifiers, as well as ensure that the best wrestlers in the state compete for titles.
“There are a lot of obstacles to get through to make the ‘straight-to-state’ plan happen, and I want to help with that. They don’t have to convince me. I want to be an advocate for the coaches, but they need to do their own work and make sure the principals, athletic directors and assistant superintendent who are on the WIAA Executive Board are well educated on why the change would be positive,” Smith said.
“I remind those guys from a management position that I have this facility to worry about and all the security working here, as well as the officials who mostly have their own business and would have to give up another weekday to be here. There’s a lot to it. People who know me know I’m not afraid to make changes, but it’s got to be a strong enough reason to do it.”
From the perspective of an athletic director, Smith raised the issue of how competitors eliminated early in the lengthened state tournament would be supervised from Thursday-Saturday, and there would be travel issues to work through with an earlier start. Weigh-ins would be earlier on Thursday or even Wednesday, and the morning sessions would start earlier to accommodate the extra rounds of action.
As the growth of girls wrestling continues, it’s becoming inevitable that their state tournament will eventually splinter off into classifications. But instead of phasing in a gradual plan with 2A, 3A and 4A together and 1A, 2B, 1B together, Smith said it might be more likely that as soon as 32 programs in one classification are able to field full teams, the WIAA handbook states that they get their own bracket.
“It might be that, for example, 3A has its own tournament and all the other classifications are still in together,” Smith said. “I think we have to prepare for that happening in the next two years.”
In his first year at the helm, Smith enacted a change to the weigh-in process to make the sport more inclusive and less austere. Washington is the only state in the country that permits its wrestlers to weigh in wearing their singlets, as opposed to just underwear or Under Armour-style tights.
“It’s made the officials more comfortable and the kids more comfortable,” Smith said. “We can’t be afraid to make changes when we see fit.”