It's been a long time since the state wrestling tournament took place in Southeast Alaska - so long ago that current high school seniors hadn't even been born yet.
But that streak will this season, when Ketchikan High School hosts the Class 4A state tournament on Feb. 7-8, 2003. The Alaska School Activities Association accepted Ketchikan's bid to host the tournament during ASAA's fall board meetings last week in Anchorage.
It will be the first state wrestling tournament to take place in Southeast since the 1983 state tourney in Sitka - when Alaska's high schools were all in one classification - and the first state tourney of any type in Southeast since Sitka hosted the 1991 Class 4A basketball tournament.
"The school and the community are really excited about it," Ketchikan High School activities director Ed Willburn said. "We're going to try and put on the best show possible and maybe down the line that will mean we'll get something else in Southeast."
"I think it will pay big dividends to the Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau teams," Ketchikan wrestling coach Rick Collins said. "It's going to be something nice to look forward to and help get us through the long winter. It's been one of my dreams to get a state tournament down here. My other dream is to have a full house for a wrestling meet at Ketchikan High School."
This was the third straight year Ketchikan applied to host the state wrestling tournament. But Ketchikan's bid to host the last two fall season state tournaments lost out to bids from Kenai Central High School. Now that Alaska's wrestling program has been returned to size classifications - instead of a fall season and a spring season with schools of both sizes competing in each season - Ketchikan will host the first Class 4A state tournament in three years.
"We were surprised when I called up ASAA in August and found out nobody had put in a bid yet," Willburn said. "We were asked if we wanted to put our bid in again."
Doug Rhodes, the Craig High School activities director and the Region V representative on ASAA's board, said Ketchikan was one of three schools to submit bids to host the tournament. But Ketchikan was the only group to submit its bid in a timely manner. Kodiak High School and Anchorage Christian Schools both submitted late bids after Lathrop, which hosted the last spring season state tournament, decided it didn't want to host state this year.
Even though Ketchikan's bid was the only one submitted on time, Rhodes said the other two bids received a lot of discussion. But Ketchikan's bid had other advantages that helped it win out when several road-system schools started complaining about the cost of traveling to Southeast.
"Ketchikan was guaranteeing ASAA a $7,000 profit from the tournament, and ours was the only proposal submitted by the cutoff date," Rhodes said. "ACS (a Class 3A school) was going to charge a facility fee, and Homer (a Class 4A school) is already hosting the Class 1A-2A-3A tournament. Kodiak was just going to provide a site. I told them coming to Southeast once every 21 years is not going to kill someone's pocketbook."
"It's been really tough to break that mentality so we can get state tournaments off the road system," Collins said. "I'd like to see the state tournaments rotate from region to region. There's no reason Juneau can't host a state volleyball tournament."
Even though the state tournament is going to Ketchikan, other Southeast communities are feeling the excitement of the region's first state championship event in 11 years.
"That's fantastic," Sitka High School activities director Lyle Sparrowgrove said. "The travel means less money spent, and it almost feels like a home meet. There will be a lot more Southeast fans there."
"Our wrestling has been pretty good in Southeast," Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling coach Bob Mahon said. "We've got seven wrestling clubs in Southeast now, and they've been generating a lot of interest in the sport. I think this is great for Southeast. Ketchikan has one of the better facilities for wrestling - there's plenty of room to get four mats on the floor and it's one of the cleanest high schools in the state. Ketchikan puts on a good show. When we bring teams down, it's usually a big draw. We'd never get to see those schools otherwise."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.