ANCHORAGE -- Alaska's large-school wrestling programs had their wish granted Monday when the Alaska School Activities Association board reinstated a late-winter season in a 7-1 vote that also declassified the sport's state championships.
But the vote, which came during the board's late-winter meeting at the Anchorage Hilton, also left a fall season that will likely isolate Bush schools from their urban counterparts.
``I'd rather work out a way to keep the state together,'' said Sylvia Reynolds, the Region III representative who cast the lone dissenting vote. ``I'm concerned for the survival of wrestling for schools in rural Alaska.''
The vote, which amended the activities calendar adopted in December, will give Alaska two wrestling seasons in the 2000-2001 school year. The first, expected to include primarily rural programs and those from the Kenai Peninsula, will begin Sept. 25 and end with a state tournament Dec. 15-16.
The second season, which will draw most of the state's Class 4A schools, will begin Jan. 15 and conclude with a state tournament April 6-7.
Schools have until April 15 to indicate to ASAA which season they will choose.
``We'll have to re-evaluate it each year,'' said Teresa Fisher, the Region VI representative who made the motion to amend the calendar. ``But we have to act and let the chips fall where they may. We have to fix the problem.''
The problem stems from the board's 1996 vote that moved wrestling from late-winter to the fall, while also shifting basketball from an October start to a December-to-March schedule to avoid a conflict between wrestling and basketball at the small schools.
That vote separated the Class 1-2-3A and Class 4A wrestling seasons, leaving just a five-week overlap for inter-class competition. Wrestling coaches and boosters were so incensed by the change that the board voted twice in next three years to adjust the schedule and create a longer overlap.
But when the board voted in December to adopt a 2000-2001 calendar that shortened the Class 4A season while pushing its start to the first week of October, the wrestling communities in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Mat-Su snapped.
Citing an extended overlap with football, from which many wrestlers are drawn, as well as facilities shortages and health and safety concerns, the three school districts asked ASAA for waivers to break away from the fall schedule and compete in late winter.
Juneau-Douglas wrestling coach Bob Mahon said his chief concern would be scheduling dates normally filled by small schools. Mahon said Anchorage schools could travel to Juneau for tournaments, or Juneau could make an extra trip or two up north to fill those dates. But that would possibly mean paying for teams to travel to Juneau, Mahon said.
Juneau wrestlers traveled north four times last season including state, while no Anchorage, Mat-Su, or Fairbanks schools traveled to Juneau, although Service, Chugiak and Lathrop competed at a tourney in Ketchikan.
Other than travel concerns, Mahon said he favored a return to spring. Mahon said he could attend pre-season tournaments with his Tornado Wrestling Club - which includes many top Crimson Bears wrestlers - and the state freestyle championships fall right after the state tournament in April.
``It's really the best schedule,'' Mahon said. ``It eliminates all the holidays.''
Among the guests who appeared Monday to appeal to the board were boosters from Fairbanks and Palmer, along with West wrestling coach Stan Brown, Chugiak coach Tom Huffer Jr. and Lathrop coach Tom Ritchie.
``We never did want separate seasons,'' said Ritchie. ``And no one wanted to go to a fall schedule. We can't do it any more. We have no choice.''
Ritchie, who sported a bald head as a result of chemotherapy treatment, drew a laugh from visitors and board members when he added, ``I've been pulling my hair out over this.''
Monday's vote eliminated the need for the waivers, but several board members expressed reservations about splitting the seasons.
``It would kill small-school wrestling if it overlaps with basketball,'' said Dean Overbey, representative for Region II, which is made up primarily of Class 1A and Class 2A schools. ``But wrestling for 4A (schools) in the fall will not work, so we're stuck. We will support this, even though it hurts.''
Skyview High athletic director John Andrews said the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Activities Association will ultimately decide when the districts's schools compete. But he noted that those programs -- a mix of Class 4A and Class 3A schools -- have already filled a fall schedule for wrestling and were unlikely to switch next season.
Skyview has won two of the past four Class 4A championships, while Kenai Peninsula counterparts Nikiski and Seward have swept the last five Class 1-2-3A titles, presenting an imposing spectre for the bush schools competing in the fall.
``I realize this is probably the only answer that's going to work,'' said Gary Baldwin, the representative for rural Region I and the board vice president. ``I'm not so concerned with splitting the seasons as I am with declassification.''
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