Throughout the District 6 Class AA wrestling tournament there was a constant discussion about the upcoming Southeast Regional, which will be wrestled March 4-5 at the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown.
And none of that discussion was pleasant.
Coaches are angry that a fifth regional qualifier was taken from District 6 and given to the WPIAL (District 7), although the statistics show that may be a reasonable move by the PIAA.
But making the teams wrestle on an accelerated time track because SMG, the company that recently took over management of the arena, bungled its schedule is definitely unfair to the kids.
The latter first: Apparently, when SMG took over the front office of the War Memorial, nobody seemed to know that the tournament was one of the regular bookings at the facility. Of course, as the self-proclaimed "world leader in venue management," SMG might have taken a few minutes to look through the past bookings, but apparently no one at the Conshohocken-based company, which traces its roots to the Louisiana Superdome, bothered to do that.
What's most troublesome is that, even a perfunctory look at the facility's Wikipedia page would have let the folks in charge know they were missing a crucial event.
Part of the problem may be the fault of the PIAA, which apparently did not have a contract in place for the event, and so when Johnstown became home to an indoor football team, and that team wanted a home game on March 5, it was booked.
Now, it would be fair to point out that this football team is in it first year in a league whose owner also was involved in the failed Mid-Atlantic Hockey League, which folded before its first season ended. And that this football team had a bye for the opening weekend (Feb. 18), and the game might well have been moved back - oops, no, the Wheeling ECHL hockey franchise was there that night; it's playing 10 games in Johnstown after the city's Chiefs fled for sunnier pastures after last season.
And the two teams could not have flipped sites for their first two games, because the arena for the Kentucky team that will be in town March 5 is not available - because it's booked for a high school sports event. Guess kids in Kentucky mean more.
Thanks to this scheduling problem, the local wrestlers who made the regional - four each from Juniata and Mount Union - will have to endure six of the tournament's eight sessions over 12 hours on opening day. The consolation semifinals will be pushed through at 9 Saturday morning before the placement bouts - both consolation and championship - are wrestled simultaneously. Everyone's expected to be out the door by 2 p.m. Saturday, so they can roll the mats and lay a carpet for the pretend football.
The fact that only four District 6 wrestlers advance to the region this year seems unfair - it used to be five - but tends to fall in line with the PIAA's proportional system.
The PIAA prefers to take three wrestlers at a minimum from each district to the respective regional. There are exceptions - District 8 (Pittsburgh) only takes two to the Northwest Regional in Class AAA, although that is at the discretion of the district. District 4 also sends just two in Class AAA to the Northeast Regional, but those two districts share something in common - very few teams in the big school class (D4 has just four schools; D8 only three).
The Southeast Regional includes District 7 (36 teams), District 6 (24 teams) and District 5 (12 teams) - a 3-2-1 ratio. If the bracket had 12 wrestlers, as some regions do, that would mean six, four and two, respectively from the three districts. But the PIAA wants three from District 5, and it gave a seventh to District 7 while taking No. 5 from our area.
The WPIAL fans would be quick to note that the brackets at District 6 were not full - one weight class had just 13 wrestlers out of the maximum 24 - so perhaps District 6 is, as the PIAA would say, less deserving of the extra qualifier.
Instead, perhaps a better way to do it might be to look at each weight bracket in all three districts and divvy out the slots accordingly - so the low-count bracket in D6 gets one less, but a full bracket compared to someone else's gets more, similar to the way the NCAA does it.
But since that requires work and makes sense, I'm not holding my breath.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.