The PIAA Individual Wrestling Championship Tournament is a three-day grind that culminates with 56 grapplers going toe-to-toe in the finals to be the best in the state at their respective weight and classifications.
The tournament begins with 560 wrestlers, as 20 compete in 14 weight classes in Class AA and AAA for the opportunity to become champion in one of the toughest states in the country.
The Class AA bracket begins Thursday morning at 9 a.m. and Class AAA kicks off that afternoon at 4 p.m. The action is hot and heavy for three days, and the chance to walk in the Parade of Champions is what every wrestler that competes at the Giant Center in Hershey strives for.
There are always upsets, dramatic finishes, injuries and bumps and bruises. Every match is a grind and every wrestler deserves to be recognized, but the finalists deserve a bit more.
What I am referring to is that the final bouts in each classification take place at the same time as wrestlers competing for third-eighth place. The format has been in place since 2012 and it doesn’t appear that the PIAA will be making a change anytime soon.
The argument came up when the PIAA decided to make the change, but it seems to have all fallen on deaf ears. Those in favor of the current format usually claim that scheduling is the reason.
When the PIAA first made the decision, PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi, who was the PIAA Associate Executive Director at that time, told PennLive.com, “It’s because of scheduling,” Lombardi said. “With breaking down the arena floor and reloading wrestlers, we felt we needed to compress the schedule.
“We were getting out of there at 10:45 or 11 at night. We don’t want kids on the road that late or have them get housing for an extra night.”
With all due respect to Dr. Lombardi, who does a tremendous job, the schedule seemed to work fine before, and even though the tournament is a long three days, adjustments could be made to still get everyone out in time.
The tournament ends on a weekend, so kids can still get home in time for school on Monday. High school students aren’t always excited about the first day back at school, but if you are a state champion, chances are you will be eager to get back to class. The competitors are driven by responsible adults, and even if the schools are on a tight budget, something could be done if wrestlers need to stay an extra night in Hershey. There are fundraisers for far more ridiculous things than a state champion needing to stay another day in a hotel.
There are significant breaks in action, and even though some rounds were over ahead of schedule this past weekend, the next round didn’t go off until its scheduled time. It was generally a 15-minute wait, and sometimes a half hour or more.
In addition, when the semifinal action begins, only four mats are used. If six mats were used the entirety of the tournament until the finals, enough time would be saved to showcase the finalists.
Another possible change would be to start the first two days at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. The PIAA could also have only 16 qualifiers and eliminate the preliminary rounds. That would take away four spots from some deserving wrestlers, but Pennsylvania is not the toughest states in the country for nothing.
If you have ever attended a wrestling tournament at any level, there is always a minimum of two mats, so action is always going on, but the state finalists deserve to have all eyes on them. College wrestling has continued to have the finals on one mat.
There are fans of the sport that just come to watch great competition, and will most-likely keep an eye on the finals match anyway, but most individuals personally involved with a contestant could care less about the finalists whether it’s Joe from down the street or Cael Sanderson.
This year’s finals were as good as advertised, but being contested with all eyes watching would add to the excitement. The wrestlers would feed off that adrenaline and the matches would be that much more entertaining. Austin DeSanto beating Spencer Lee in 2017 had everyone on their feet, but the two, who are ironically teammates at Iowa, had to share the spotlight with six other combatants.
The tournament was once again a huge success, and some of the additions, such as FloWrestling holding the broadcasting rights and the tournament being digital and no paper scoresheets being used seems to be popular, but most traditional wrestling fans would agree that the finals need to be on center stage.
Chances are change will not be made to a one-mat format for the finals, but it is something the PIAA should revisit.
Herald-Standard sports writer Jonathan Guth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org