When Biglerville High coach Bob Gano stepped into his team's locker room Wednesday night, he saw his wrestlers crying. They had just lost 37-27 to Bermudian Springs in a District 3 Class AA team tournament semifinal, ending their dual-meet season.
District 3 qualifies just two teams -- berths Boiling Springs and Bermudian Springs claimed with wins Wednesday -- because it has just 26 Class AA schools. But Gano believes his team, ranked fifth by PA Power Wrestling, is good enough to wrestle in the state tournament.
"Other than (Bethlehem Catholic), we can wrestle with anybody on any night," he said. "Coming into this year, anybody that had any wrestling knowledge and looked at what's coming back in the state says the three Bs (Boiling Springs, Bermudian Springs and Biglerville) in District 3."
Bermudian Springs coach Dave McCollum echoed Gano's thought, saying the Canners provided an excellent preparation for the tough competition the Eagles will see in the state tournament.
"There's no doubt about it," McCollum said. "I can't replace this kind of atmosphere, this kind of competition in the practice room. Like I told our kids before we came down here, I said, 'Whoever makes it through tonight is going to represent District 3 well in the state tournament.'"
Not quite, said PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi.
"The argument that's coming from District 3 is their third-place finisher would be stronger than other district champions," he said. "The results over the last five years haven't indicated that."
Well, let's look at the numbers.
--- In 2012, District 3 champion Boiling Springs finished second and runner-up Bermudian Springs was one win short of guaranteeing at least fourth place. The Eagles were eliminated by the team that eventually finished fourth.
--- In 2011, District 3 champion Boiling Springs lost in the third round of consolations and runner-up Biglerville in the second. They were both eliminated by teams that didn't place.
--- In 2010, District 3 champion Schuylkill Valley finished one win shy of guaranteeing fourth place, and runner-up Boiling Springs was eliminated in the first round of consolations. Both were eliminated by a team that finished fourth.
--- In 2009, District 3 champion Schuylkill Valley finished third and eliminated runner-up Bermudian Springs in the third round of consolations.
--- In 2008, District 3 champion Bermudian Springs finished second and runner-up Brandywine Heights didn't place after being eliminated by the team that finished fourth.
So of the 10 teams District 3 has qualified, just two were eliminated by teams that didn't place and three suffered just one loss in the double-elimination tournament. A District 3 team has also lost to the eventual state champion in each of the last five years.
"There are some district champs that we beat by 40 and 50 points (in the past)," McCollum said. "We are traditionally tough programs that are not getting weaker. We all have strong feeder programs."
McCollum suggested the PIAA should expand its tournament from 16 teams to allow teams that may have deserved a berth an opportunity to compete. Lombardi, however, said the PIAA steering committee would be opposed to that because it prefers the current plan of representation in the state tournament being based on the number of schools in each district.
He added determining which teams to give an at-large berth is challenging, denouncing the idea of a coaches' or media poll.
"They're too subjective," he said. "Everybody doesn't wrestle the same schedule. It makes it more difficult. If we do it on the numbers, it's fair.
"Let's just take football. Some people believe that's our best tournament -- only champions advance. You have to advance based upon being the best that day. That's the beauty of wrestling. You prove it on the mat."
But because just two District 3 teams qualify, the Canners won't have an opportunity to show well they could perform in the state tournament.
"It's a tough thing," Gano said. "Obviously you're going to see teams in the state tournament we've beaten, both AAA and AA, which is kind of disappointing. But that's just the way it is."
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