State high school wrestlers got an early takedown on the season, as the Alaska School Activities Association voted to begin the season nearly a week early.
During a board meeting Tuesday in Anchorage the group voted to move the start of the large school wrestling season to Oct. 30. Previously it had been scheduled for Nov. 4.
“The reason was to give more of the kids the opportunity to get their 10 practices in before the first meet,” said Sandi Wagner, athletic director for the Juneau School District. “So they could still overlap with the small schools.”
The 1-2-3A, or small schools, wrestling season began on Sept. 30 and the first matches begin Friday. Tuesday’s decision gives the large schools a true two-week overlap of seasons.
Wrestling at the small school level is a major sport for many schools that do not have football programs, or for those whose cross-country seasons are nearing an end.
“With the split in the small schools and the large schools, it was hard to get those practices in before that next week of wrestling,” ASAA Region V representative Andrew Friske said. “It was felt by all the regions that it was important enough to get those extra couple days in to have that overlap for two weeks.”
Region V tries to make that scenario work every season.
The problem with the Southeast smaller schools wrestling in winter is that athletes would have to choose between wrestling and basketball, and many schools don’t have a large enough student body to fill both teams.
“This does help Ketchikan, Juneau and Thunder Mountain get those ten practices for that first meet,” Friske said.
The first meet is hosted by Ketchikan and will feature many of the smaller schools. Traditionally Angoon, Craig, Gustavus, Haines, Hydaburg, Kake, Klawock, Metlakatla, Mt. Edgecumbe, Pelican, Petersburg, Sitka, Skagway, Tenakee, Thorne Bay, Wrangell and Yakutat have fielded teams and/or individuals.
The small school region tournament is Dec. 6-7 at Mt. Edgecumbe and the state tournament is Dec. 12-13 in Anchorage. This means that the Nov. 22-23 Juneau Invitational could also feature some competitive wrestlers from smaller schools.
“Really it only helps us get practices in,” Thunder Mountain coach Jake Jacoby said. “It doesn’t change much else.”
The change is important in that there are state holidays and long weekends during the first week in November.
“The seventh to eighth and 11th to 12th are no school days for kids,” Jacoby said. “Realizing that, they bumped the date back a couple days.”
The JDHS Crimson Bears travel to Wasilla on Dec. 6 and will host a 4A tri-meet with TMHS and Ketchikan on Dec. 13-14. The Falcons travel to West Anchorage on Dec. 20-21; JDHS and TMHS wrestle Jan. 3-4; TMHS travels to North Pole and JDHS to Colony on Jan. 10-11; Ketchikan hosts a tri-meet Jan. 20-21 and the Region V Championships on Feb. 1. The state large school championships are at Bartlett High School on Feb. 7-8.
A brief history of Alaska wrestling:
When Alaska high school wrestling began in 1961 schools wrestled in two divisions. That lasted until 1972.
The first Alaska State High School Wrestling Tournament was held in 1972 at Service High School in Anchorage, with the champions and runners-up from each weight class in the two geographic regions of Alaska: the Southeast and Southcentral. Southeast wrestlers earning state titles that tournament were Mark Johnson (Juneau-Douglas, 98-pounds), Mike Maxwell (Ketchikan, 105-pounds), K.C. Wilson (JDHS, 132-pounds) and Ed Shaw (JDHS, 145-pounds).
In 1973, the state tournament was held at Juneau and crowns went to Southeast wrestlers Chuck Mallot (KTN, 98-pounds), Johnson (JDHS, 112-pounds), Wilson (JDHS, 138-pounds) and Richard Gile (Wrangell, 155-pounds).
JDHS would not get another state champ until 105-pound Loren Cummins in 1976-77.
Starting in 1979, both the large and small schools wrestled at one state tournament but were divided into Division I (small) and Division II (large). This continued through the 1984-85 seasons. In 1985, schools were again reclassified, this time as 4A (large) and 1-2-3A (small). During the 1985-86 season, enrollment classifications made the small/large school split more straightforward.
The biggest controversy occurred in the 2000-01 season when wrestling was split into two seasons and schools were allowed to choose the season they wanted to wrestle in, regardless of enrollment size. Southeast and some smaller schools in Region III and the Interior chose the fall while schools with football teams in Region IV and VI and the Mat-Su Valley chose the spring. Southeast wrestling purists found themselves back competing among familiar rivals and true champions were crowned. This lasted for two years until the enrollment classifications were returned.
While moving 4A wrestling to the fall season works in Southeast it would not work in Anchorage due to athletes competing in football.