E.A. Sports Today

Duals in the spotlight

Wrestling teams, coaches welcome the chance to play in a statewide duals tournament; just don’t call it a state championship — yet

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

MONTGOMERY — High school wrestling teams in the state of Alabama will get to feel what it’s like to compete for a state championship on a team level this winter as the state high school association introduces a duals tournament many coaches say is long overdue.

Just don’t call it a state championship — at least not yet.

The state duals tournament will debut Jan. 20-28 and while not a state championship per se – AHSAA by-laws currently allow only one state championship in each sport — it could evolve into one after this current two-year experiment is evaluated. The traditional state championship will continue to be crowned in Huntsville.

“I think it is great,” said new Oxford coach Matt Hicks, who is coming to Yellow Jackets after two traditional state championship seasons at Leeds. “The team aspect of the sport is something that many folks rarely get to see. This is something coaches have wanted for a long time and I commend the AHSAA for stepping up and making it happen.”

Teams will be assigned various regions in Class 1A-5A, 6A and 7A and play head-to-head matchups to determine playoff participants. The quarterfinals (Jan. 20 or 21) and semifinals (Jan. 24) will be wrestled at host schools, while the finals will be at the Birmingham Crossplex. The traditional Super Sectionals and State Tournament will follow in February.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Alexandria coach Frank Hartzog said. “It probably needs a little tweaking in the implementation, but I am excited about it.

“I can’t really tell too much until I see how it plays out this year, but it has potential to grow the sport and fan base. The playoff idea is prestigious for those who make it.”

All six Calhoun County 1A-5A wrestling teams – Alexandria, Ohatchee, Piedmont, Saks, Weaver and Wellborn — will compete in the same region (Region 4). Cleburne County, Lincoln and Ranburne will compete in 1A-5A Region 2. Oxford is in 6A Region 2 with Benjamin Russell, Opelika, Pell City and Russell County.

Unless otherwise designated, the first head-to-head dual meeting between teams will count towards their region standings. Some regions already are planning a big head-to-head day in order to keep more of the 14 dual scheduling dates allowed by the state available.

The winning teams and runners-ups at the Crossplex will be awarded plaques, but there will be no “red” and “blue” trophies that will be given out in Huntsville. Still, after going through a format that involves every team in the state it will be hard for the participants not to perceive it as a state championship.

“I would,” Weaver coach Andy Fulmer said. “It’s scheduled as the state duals. That’s what they said when they threw that idea out.”

In time it could become one officially, but that would take approval by the AHSAA Central Board.

“I would love to see it,” Marvin Chou, the AHSAA’s director of championships said Tuesday. “Anything that the AHSAA is a part of, I think we want to see a state championship type atmosphere. Eventually that will be discussed and looked at, but for these first two years it will just be a state tournament.”

AHSAA officials also talked Tuesday about what they consider the toughest high school recruiting rule in the nation. The governing body has budgeted $100,000 for a five-person investigative team to look at every transfer in the state. The team includes three professional investigators, a school administrator and an investigative reporter, none of whom the AHSAA would identify.

Other issues discussed were the new baseball pitch-count rule, non-traditional student eligibility, and the Champions Challenge football series at Cramton Bowl that starts Thursday.

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