Juneau sides with region in wrestling split

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2000

Juneau-Douglas High School has decided its wrestlers will compete in the fall when the sports split schedule takes effect next year.

With the move, which featured much debate, the Crimson Bears will be one of just seven Class 4A schools to compete in the fall season. The fall season will feature most of the state's small schools and 61 teams total. Only 18 schools will compete in the spring season, but that group includes 14 of the state's Class 4A schools and just four small schools -- Class 3A Eielson, Howard Luke and Delta Junction from the Fairbanks area and Class 1A Port Lions from Kodiak Island.

Even though he didn't like the fall schedule and wanted the Crimson Bears involved in the spring season, Juneau coach Bob Mahon said he'll deal with the fall schedule. He expects ASAA and the state's wrestling programs to revisit the schedule issue before the 2001-2002 school year.

``We've got to find something positive about this,'' Mahon said. ``We'll do the best we can with the cards we're dealt.''

Ed Willburn, the athletic director at Ketchikan High School, said he was happy Juneau chose to stay in the fall, even if the decision was controversial. He said there are a lot of different issues involved in the split schedule, and he doesn't think there are any easy answers.

``I felt it was very important to keep us (Region V) in the same season,'' Willburn said. ``Things are different up north, but here in Southeast we have problems with geography and money. Our coach wanted to go to the spring, but financially there was no way to do it.''

In late February, the Alaska School Activities Association voted to split the wrestling schedule into two seasons after large schools from Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks threatened to pull out of the state's schedule if the wrestling season stayed in the fall.

A few months earlier, ASAA realigned the Class 4A and Class 1A2A-3A seasons into a combined fall schedule after having slightly split, but overlapping, fall seasons in the three previous years. Schools were required to declare which season they planned to compete in by April 15 and ASAA released the list Tuesday.

The new fall schedule -- which includes all the large schools from Region V (Southeast) and the Kenai Peninsula -- will begin practice on Sept. 29 and end with a state tournament Dec. 15-16. The spring schedule will open practice Jan. 15 and concludes with a state tournament April 6-7.

Representatives from the large schools said the fall wrestling season conflicted too much with football, which is a sport that draws a lot of wrestlers. The small schools wanted to stay in the fall because they don't have football programs and the later basketball schedule conflicts with spring wrestling. Many of the small school officials said wrestling in the fall and basketball in the late spring helps keep students involved in the school, and they can save money on transportation by combining resources with their volleyball teams.

Juneau's wrestling boosters wanted the school to go to the spring season, to stay with the state's powerhouses, but school officials decided to keep the Region V teams together for financial reasons. Juneau athletic director Sandi Wagner said the decision was made by principal Sasha Soboleff, but Soboleff was in meetings Wednesday and Thursday and not available for comment.

``I think this hurts us,'' Mahon said. ``I think our parents tried to voice their opinion. We had a lot of them call the school and send emails, saying that they wanted to go to spring. We said, since the split schedule is only a one-year deal, let us go to the spring and try it. We can always come back to the fall if it doesn't work.''

Soldotna principal and Region III ASAA board representative Sylvia Reynolds, a former Juneau athletic director, was the only ASAA board member to vote against the split schedule in February. She felt it would have been better to keep wrestling in the fall this season, using the old slightly split schedule, while a blue ribbon committee tried to find a better solution. She felt there were problems with ASAA's decision to switch wrestling from the spring to the fall four years ago and it would be better to wait so they could get the decision right this time.

``I thought it would be better to keep the schedule together and do a repeat of last year,'' Reynolds said. ``That made sense to me, especially after our last faux pas. We heard the wrestling coaches wanted to bring the seasons closer together and make it so they didn't go over two holidays, and I thought we'd addressed those with the new fall schedule. But when they had problems I thought we should have gone back to the old seasons and brought in a blue ribbon committee.''

She said the overall number of school activities participants increased since the new master schedule took effect four years ago, but acknowledged wrestling has been hurt a bit. But she also said several school officials who balked at the move to a fall wrestling schedule four years ago now don't want to move back to the spring. She said her school district chose to keep the teams in the fall schedule because it didn't want to split its large schools from its small schools.

``I'm excited about the new fall schedule,'' Reynolds said. ``We've got 70 schools (not every small school declared, so they will compete in the fall) this fall. For us, it makes a lot of sense to have Skyview and Soldotna compete against Nikiski and Seward, and it saves on travel costs.''

Mahon said his worry is Juneau will suffer because there won't be enough wrestlers in all the weight classes in Southeast to keep everybody interested, especially the top wrestlers who need a challenge and the bottom wrestlers who need to wrestle other novices. He thinks it will also hurt in college recruiting, since college coaches don't want to come to Alaska in the fall because they're getting their own seasons going.

``I see the split as damaging,'' Mahon said. ``It's another kick in the butt for wrestling.''


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