The Iowa High School Athletic Association has addressed a controversy surrounding its postseason dual tournament series last year, threatening to levy sanctions against schools that don’t use their starters in next month’s regional and state duals.
The IHSAA sent out a memo last week to teams that qualified for the regional duals, stating its expectation that those squads will use “regular varsity wrestlers ... except in the case of injury, illness, or ineligibility declarations.”
The memo also states if that mandate is not followed, the IHSAA’s “administrative staff will discuss with the Board of Control the future participation of individual schools in the state dual team wrestling tournament series and the future of the state dual team wrestling tournament series, itself.”
“We don’t have postseason competition at the sub-varsity level,” IHSAA assistant executive director Alan Beste said. “So our postseason competition is for varsity competitors. The message we’re simply trying to send to the coaches and athletic directors is this is a varsity event and our expectation is that your varsity wrestlers are going to compete except in situations where a coach is making a strategic decision.”
The state duals drew record crowds, but patchwork lineups developed into a controversy in 2012 during its first year leading off the four-day championship series at Wells Fargo Arena.
The issue is the timing of state duals, the day before the three-day traditional meet.
Coaches, including Creston/O-M’s Darrell Frain, argue that wrestling in the duals put individual qualifiers at a competitive disadvantage against those who didn’t, as well as injury risks.
Nashua-Plainfield won the Class 1A dual title, but in the process, the Huskies lost 138-pound state qualifier Cody Marks, who broke his hand and could not compete in the traditional tournament.
Such an injury could be a big blow for two historic quests this year, for example. In Class 2A, Jake Marlin of Creston/O-M and Brandon Sorensen of Denver-Tripoli are seeking their fourth state titles.
Southeast Polk, the overwhelming favorite to win the Class 3A dual title, sat all 10 of its traditional state qualifiers and went 0-3. West Des Moines Valley advanced to the state dual finals and then sent its individual qualifiers home before the championship round. The Tigers lost 75-6 against Bettendorf in the championship.
Frain, one of the coaches who rested his state individual qualifiers last year and filled out a reserve-heavy lineup for the state duals consolation match, said the IHSAA threats won’t change his approach this year. Last year he used his regulars until getting nipped by state champion Davenport Assumption in the semifinals, 36-32.
Then, the Panthers lost in the third-place match, 43-25, to an Atlantic team the Panthers had defeated during the regular season. He was asked if the memo would change his approach this year.
“Nope,” he said. “I plan on wrestling (starters) as long as we’re on the front side, and then adjust as we need to after that. If you’re wrestling for a championship, you’re going to do it.”
Last year, Frain noted the investment made of wrestlers and their families over the years to get on the awards stand Saturday night at the traditional tournament. Wrestling late on the night before that tournament begins could jeopardize the athletes’ competitive situation, he said.
Beste said coaches will still be permitted to substitute liberally once dual outcomes are determined. But coaches have said it’s not fair to risk the first six wrestlers in the lineup and not the last eight, for example.
As for repercussions, Frain noted the memo stated the possible future of the dual state tournament if coaches don’t comply. He doesn’t want the tourney to end, just the timing of it to be re-evaluated.
“Will they possibly take away the whole tournament?” Frain said. “There’s too much money involved.”
The tournament was held the weekend after the traditional state tournament for years. But, renovation to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids caused the IHSAA to find a new home and this two-year “experiment” to hold it on the eve of the traditional tourney in Des Moines.
Meanwhile, Frain has announced the lineup for the fifth-ranked Panthers for Saturday’s 2A sectional tournament in Winterset, which begins at noon.
The Panther squad will consist of Stone Hammons (106), Kruz Adamson (113), Wyatt Thompson (120), Gage Cheers (126), Joey Huntington (132), Jake Marlin (138), Jacob Johnston (145), Gavin Leith (152), Trevor Frain (160), Adam Baker (170), Seth Maitlen (182), Keaton Hulett (195), Cole Tanner (220), Nate Robinson (285).
The top two finishers in each weight class advance to the Feb. 9 district tournament in Knoxville.