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District 3 plans changes to wrestling tournaments

District 3 wrestling tournaments may have a much different look for the 2016-17 season.

Not everybody is happy about it.

"All but one Class AA coach voted to keep things the same as last year," said James Buchanan coach Matt Gordon, whose team drops from AAA to AA next season.

According to District 3 wrestling chairman Randy Umberger, when the district committee meets on Aug. 9, there are essentially three options on the table for AA — (1.) keep things as they've been, with sectionals the first week, followed by districts the next week; (2.) switch to a two-week district event, with everybody at one site the first weekend, wrestling through the quarterfinals, and competing alongside AAA the second week; or (3.) drop the first week for AA and wrestle the entire tournament the second week.

"We will make that decision on Aug. 9," Umberger said. "We've been working on trying to tie down the sites."

The district would prefer option 3.

In that scenario, which would ideally be held at Giant Center, Class AA would begin on Thursday, Feb. 23 and wrestle through the quarterfinals so that eight wrestlers (four in consolations) would still be alive. AAA would wrestle Friday morning and afternoon to the same place in the brackets.

Both classes would return Friday evening to wrestle the semifinals, and the session would include the Hall of Fame introductions. Saturday would be the championship round and consolation finals for both classes, which would conclude the tournament in time for the staff to prepare for a Hershey Bears game that night.

"We think this way could showcase our event, and make Friday night pretty special," Umberger said. "But a lot of this can't be resolved until we know the final time schedule (for the Bears)."

Rusty Wallace Jr., coach of defending District 3 team champion Northern Lebanon, said, "We had 100 percent participation by the coaches and 30 of 31 strongly opposed eliminating sectionals, and all 31 opposed having the district tournament over separate weekends."

Longtime Bermudian Springs coach Dave McCollum said, “I don’t think (a two-week tournament is) good for AA wrestling. We were at 26 AA teams this past season and we felt that eventually the district committee might decide to go to a district tournament with a 32-man bracket.”

“With 26 teams I can understand the reasoning and I can live with it,” McCollum added. “As it turns out, this upcoming season we have five more teams added to the 26 (JB, Kennard-Dale, Elco, Middletown and Susquehanna Twp.) which gives us 31. The programs that are now going to be AA are five strong programs. They were relatively competitive in AAA, and in AA they will be more competitive.”

In Class AAA, which now has 59 schools, instead of having five sectionals — with each qualifying the top-three wrestlers for districts, plus one in each weight determined by a formula — there will now be four sections and each will qualify its top-four for districts.

“It’ll change how many move on,” said Central York coach Seth Beitz on how the four-sectional format will change things. “From a coaching perspective it doesn’t change a whole lot. Your goal is to get the guys ready and to help them meet their goals. Most kids want to go to states and medal.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s two sections, four sections or eight sections. If you are going to make states you’ll have to earn it.”

The hosts will be Mechanicsburg, Hempfield, Governor Mifflin and South Western. The previous site that was cut out was CD East.

“I think in the first year it’ll be a little challenging because it’s the first time,” Beitz said on how the time schedule will differ from years past. “I know there are a lot of good people in the leadership of PIAA to make this decision. It won’t be smooth the first try but as years go by it’ll go better.”

According to Rod Frisco, District 3's webmaster, all of the details, including sites, will be nailed down at the district meeting Aug. 9. At this point, Milton Hershey is a possible site for the first week of AA if that decision is made.

Wallace said most coaches feel that losing sectionals is not a good thing.

"Sectionals were one day and were kind of localized, so the average fan had a short distance to drive," Wallace said. "It also gave kids who may not be able to compete at the district level a chance for motivation. It was another chance for them to compete (for a championship)."

“Parents, coaches and all fans would get to see a champion each weekend which I think really promotes the sport and gets to recognize kids for all their hard work,” McCollum said in regard to the postseason format in years past. “This past year, when (Austin) Clabaugh won sectionals, that was the most excited I’ve seen him. We have a potential state champ and he was thrilled to win sectionals.”

The other issue is how the brackets will be set up for districts. With sectionals, champions were separated, and the seeding could be done easier.

“That’s a big concern (the seeding) of the AA wrestlers,” McCollum said. “We don’t really know the game plan, but I’m sure it’s going to do a lot with points per bout, which a lot of people know doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s not always the best way to seed.”

Wallace said, "How will they seed the district tournament? Sectionals helped do that. Now, with up to 31 kids in a bracket, you could have two good kids meeting pretty early."

Added Gordon, "There was more wrestling the way it was before. Even if the same kids battle each week, that can be a good thing.You have to beat the best to be the best."

Andy Mease contributed to this report.