Anyone who's ever been to a wrestling tournament knows how excruciating it can be to sit around all day waiting for one kid to wrestle for six minutes - maybe less.
There are usually hardly any windows in the gym. It's stuffy. The wrestlers stink. The bleachers are uncomfortable and the constant waiting is just downright tiring.
"Someone could drop an atom bomb on the earth, and you wouldn't know about it until you left,'' joked Jackson-Milton coach Dave Tomaino, who's seen his share of tournaments in his 26 years leading the Blue Jays. "You lose contact with the world for those six, seven or eight hours that you're there."
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Howland’s Alex Cornicelli, right, prevents Boardman’s Peter Ryan from taking him down to the ground early in a match on Saturday at Howland. Howland is one of the premiere teams in the area this season.
Nothing changes at the state tournament. In fact, the length of the wait generally increases because three different divisions, each with more than 400 wrestlers, are taking part in the annual event held at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. So, as exciting as the competition is, it becomes quite grueling for the average fan.
That is just one of the many reasons several coaches believe the newly implemented State Dual Meet Tournament will be a success in Ohio. It's a major difference to the individual state tournament,which will continue to be part of the sport.
For years in wrestling, an individual, not a team, advances to the state tournament. Teams can still win a state title by gaining points from their wrestlers at the tournament. The further a kid advances in the tournament, the more points he scores for his team. So, if a school only has three or four wrestlers, but they place high at the state tournament, they can win a 'team' title. That leaves out schools that do not have an individual reach the state level. The dual meet tournament will change that, and many believe its addition can provide more interest to a sport that doesn't receive as much publicity as others despite its longstanding tradition.
"I think dual meets are the key to saving the sport," said Canfield coach Dean Conley, who pointed out that states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana have successfully used the dual meet format for years. "I have a few friends in Michigan, and they said on some levels, they like it more than the individual state tournament because the whole town kind of follows you. No one wants to sit in the bleachers for five hours a day waiting for one kid to wrestle, but a dual is completely different."
Apparently the Ohio High School Athletic Association agreed. The tournament is optional for schools to join, but any team that fills at least eight weight classes (there are 14 total) can partake. The regional breakdown of the tournament is a bit complex (it can be found at www.ohsaa.org/sports/wr/boys), but the format is similar to the current system used for basketball. The OHSAA created eight regions, with 24 teams to a region. The eight regional champions advance to the state tournament on Feb. 9 at St. John's Arena in Columbus.
St. John's Arena was where the individual state tournament was held for a long period of time during the 1980s. Howland coach Bill Beasom said having the arena as part of the event brings a nostalgic feel to it.
"That's where I wrestled in the state tournament when I was in high school," he said. "So that's a neat thing. Historically, it's a nice place to compete. I think it would be pretty neat to go back there."
Another area coach, Austintown Fitch's Brett Powell, also competed at St. John's during his high school days, but that's not the only reason he's intrigued by the tournament. Powell has been the president of the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association for three years and said he's been pushing for the tournament since he took over. He said the addition of the tournament forces coaches to teach the entire team instead of just a few individuals.
"It's going to come down to, 'Are your weak links better than mine?' and did you coach your whole team really hard, or did you coach four or five good guys really hard and let the rest of the team suffer?,'' he said. "It's a whole new concept for coaches."
Liberty coach Hadi A. Hadi said it's not all that new to him. Hadi said he's been a major proponent of dual meets and their impact on the sport for years. He believes kids work harder when they're wrestling for more than just themselves. He also said fans and the school in general are more apt to follow a team than just one person, which will create a stronger following from the community. His main point was how the dual meet state tournament can help promote the sport of wrestling to fans who may not have been followers before they heard about how well their team is doing.
"People who follow the sport closely, they know all the individual names, but the average person doesn't know anything about it," he said. "People know the schools though. For example, if I walk around town and I tell someone '(Liberty wrestler) Cody BuCher won a state title last year,' people are going to be like 'Who?' But if you say Liberty won the state title last year, everyone is going to know about it."
Not everyone is sold on the idea though. Girard High School coach Jim Cardiero isn't alone in his opinion that the same teams that have been winning team state titles in the individual tournament are going to win the dual meet championships as well.
"I'm kind of curious about it I guess," he said. "Me personally, no, I really don't think it's going to help the sport all that much. Wrestling is what it is. You either love it or you don't. (The dual meet tournament) is probably more enjoyable for people to go to matches. Maybe three or four matches into it you might get better student-body interest, but I don't think it's going to save the sport or anything like that."
Powell said the OHSAA is giving the dual meet tournament a three-year trial run, and if it's successful, it will continue to be part of the sport.
"They've given us what we need to make this work, and I think this is going to be a game-changer for wrestling," Powell said. "You never really find out who the true, state dual champion is. This way, you're going to see it wrestled out."