While the PIAA Board of Directors will consider its proposal to reduce the number of competitive classifications May 20, some wrestling coaches from the South Hills area already have weighed in on the decision.
“Not a fan of cutting any weight classes,” said Bethel Park head coach Tim Crawford. “It would only take opportunities and possible scholarships away from athletes.”
Mt. Lebanon head coach Marc Allemang agreed with Crawford’s assessment.
“Not a big supporter of taking away opportunities for kids to compete,” he said.
South Fayette head coach Rich Chaussard said eliminating weight classes would not be ideal as programs are trying to “grow the sport” across the area.
“By eliminating weights they are reducing a student athlete’s chance to be in the starting lineup and participate in matches,” he said.
The PIAA is looking at reducing weight classes from 14 to 13. The organization, which sets the rules for scholastic sports and leagues throughout the state, including the WPIAL, proposes to keep the 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152 and 160 weight classes and then consolidating the upper divisions. Instead of five — 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285 — there would be four weight classes at 172, 189, 215 and 285.
“When I saw the proposed 13 weight classes I was pleased that they maintained the majority of the weights, including keeping 106,” Allemang said. “I do have some concerns about the large gaps at the end of the weights.”
Allemang said the jump from 172 pounds to 189 is significant and moving from 215 pounds to 285 is even more daunting.
Chartiers Valley head coach Billy Evans said the National Federation of High Schools did not make any recommendations on weight classes.
Evans, who is not in favor of changing weight classes, said if the PIAA makes a change, then Pennsylvania would be out of alignment with the rest of the country.
The change would impact wrestlers competing in tournaments like Beast of the East, Ironman or Powerade and would provide challenges in properly ranking competitors nationally, Evans said.
Mt. Lebanon senior Luke Stout is currently ranked No. 4 by Flowrestling among 195-pound wrestlers in the country.
“How would he be ranked nationally under the new weight classes?” Evans said. “Would this have potentially hurt his ability for recruitment at a school like Princeton? How will future wrestlers be affected by this misalignment?”
PIAA officials said 95% of state team competitions, duals or tournaments, are held in Pennsylvania. Officials said the proposal affords an easier method for breaking ties in dual meets and would reduce foreits.
For Class AAA programs, however, that is not necessarily a problem.
“Maybe if I had a down year and our upper weights were a little thin, it could potentially benefit my team,” Evans said, “but I can’t remember the last time that I had a hard time filling those weights with quality wrestlers. So I can’t really see it helping or hurting my team significantly from year to year.
“I still can’t see the benefit to reducing competition opportunities for high school athletes,” he added.
Allemang said while many programs struggle with numbers, Mt. Lebanon has been able to revitalize it’s program by recruiting football, lacrosse and baseball players to participate during the offseason of their main sports.
“We have tried to build relationships with those teams in hopes that kids will consider being a multi-sport athlete and see the benefit of how wrestling will help them in other sports,” he said. “If teams are not able to attract some of those players, then it might be difficult.”
Allemang said he has discovered “creative” ways of advancing the sport at Mt. Lebanon. The Blue Devils recognize alumni, youth wrestlers and seniors. They invite soloists and groups to sing the national anthem. Some matches are dedicated to individuals and community causes. Other bouts feature junior varsity or youth exhibitions between opposing teams.
“Many folks talk about how duals do not help promote the sport, but a lot of programs are doing some really cool things to build interest and make their matches more of an event than just watching wrestling,” he said.
“In my experiences so far, out dual meets have provided opportunities for some of the most exciting moments during the season,” Allemang added. “So for programs that might have decent numbers (like ours) it is difficult to lose a weight class. Bottom line is allowing greater participation of all kids on rosters is essential. Program numbers will drop if kids do not get to compete.”
Evans pointed to the addition of classifications in other PIAA sports as creating more excitement and adding competitive balance in the state postseason tournaments.
“Imagine,” Evans said, “which state champions from 160 and up didn’t deserve their titles this season? Which 20 kids didn’t deserve the opportunity to be there? Because that is what is happening now with the removal of a weight class. 20 kids per classification, so 40 technically, aren’t making the trip to Hershey next season.
“Other sports are creating infrastructures that are encouraging growth and more recognitions of student-athletes, more banners in gyms and on the fences of stadiums,” he added “Wrestling is contracting and that isn’t good at all.”