The postseason, especially championship games, serves as a coronation for the best of the best. Sometimes, however, the events that lead to the coronation go wrong.
Nothing proves that point more than the debacle at the District 3 Class AAA team wrestling championships this past Saturday at Milton Hershey as a pair of disqualification victories incited an ugly incident between rivals Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley.
With four bouts remaining, Central Dauphin led 22-16 as 160-pounders Phil Petrina (Central Dauphin) and Felix Belga (Cumberland Valley) took the mat. The two battled early on with Belga recording a takedown and as Petrina was working to escape, Belga returned Petrina to the mat, albeit a little violently. Petrina walked back to the center, but before the whistle blew to resume, he went over to get checked out by the team trainer. The side official declared it was a slam by Belga and when Petrina was unable to return to the mat, Belga was disqualified. The victory pushed the Rams lead to 28-16.
Cumberland Valley fans, of course, were upset with the decision with some even saying they saw Rams' assistants telling Petrina to stay down. As of this writing, Petrina is still in concussion protocol and did not compete Monday in the Rams victory over Upper Darby in the opening round of the PIAA team tournament. Also not with Central Dauphin during that match was head coach Jeff Sweigard who was suspended by Central Dauphin for the match.
A few bouts later, the Eagles found themselves trailing 28-22 entering the final match between Trent Cook and Central Dauphin's Hunter Neilsen.
With Cumberland Valley needing a pin to force the match into criteria, Cook scored an early takedown to the take the lead. Neilson escaped and with the wrestlers in neutral, his hands caught the eye of Cook, a call the officials immediately made, awarding Cook a penalty point.
After making his way back to center, Cumberland Valley coach Dave Heckard wanted Cook to receive medical attention. Shortly after starting injury time, a majority of the crowd in attendance knew what was going to happen. In a turn-about is fair play nature, the Eagles were going to let the injury clock expire, earning a disqualification victory. Heckard acknowledged this by nodding his head and strutting toward the Central Dauphin fans and bench. To the Rams, they saw this as taunting, which incited Sweigard.
The disqualification tied the score at 28 and Cumberland Valley prevailed on criteria H - most first points scored in individual bouts.
Heckard has since been been suspended for the duration of the PIAA team championships.
My take: The incident as a whole is a black eye for the sport. The schools have a chance to make a statement and while suspending the coaches was a start, I think a bigger statement can be made. I'm not talking about dismissing these coaches, as I firmly believe that people make mistakes and should be forgiven. I also don't feel removing the team from the postseason is the correct thing to do, because it was the adults in this situation that created a mockery of the dual meet. It's not fair to punish the student athletes.
What do I think should happen? The coaches should have been suspended from competitive matches, tournaments, etc. for the remainder of the season. The coaches need to know that they are accountable for their actions. I don't think it's appropriate to suspend them the remainder of the season because there are kids in the practice room, the athletes, that benefit from the coach. To take away that would be unfair.
This is unprecedented territory. I do see District 3 or perhaps the PIAA trying to determine a rule in regards to the disqualification for an injury rule, but my concern to that is that it can possibly hurt an athlete that ends up being legitimately injured during that match.
In short, coaches need to be held accountable, but as I sit here and read thoughts by Dan Russell, I can't help but think how easy it is to get caught up in everything, even as an adult in a position of authority. All I know is that sportsmanship was tossed aside for a victory, that, for all intents and purposes, as both teams were already in the PIAA team championships, was meaningless.