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Open Mike Column: Wrestling community happy to have H.S. state qualifier back at one venue

The Section VI state qualifier will no longer be held at Lake Shore — like this regular season match pictured here, as it has the past two seasons. Instead, the two divisions will once again be united, this time at UB's Alumni Arena. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)
Since Section VI went to a split venue for the Division I and II State Wrestling Qualifier during the 2010-11 season, Eden head coach Tom Page talked of his disappointment that fans of the sport would no longer get to see all that Western New York high schools had to offer in the sport in one place.

With large schools wrestling at one high school and small schools at another, all competing at the same time, he believed it took away from the sport at this level and unfairly split up the fan base.

I kept my notes after speaking with Page about this topic a few years back just in case Section VI ever moved it back to one venue. Upon hearing that it will happen for the winter 2012-13 season, I’m sure you could guess who was pretty excited about it.

Page is not alone in being happy to see it back to one venue, as the competition will take place Sunday, Feb. 10 in its new home, University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena. He’s one of many that had been pushing to get it back to a single venue.

“I think we’re all excited as coaches to see both large and small schools wrestling again in one place,” said Page, a fifth-year head coach with Eden. “There’s a lot of good wrestling, so it’s great to get the fan base back to one venue to see it all.”

Not only do coaches see this move as sparking the fan base, but as first-year Frontier head coach Joe Russo pointed out, it’s also nice for wrestlers and coaches alike, who are just as big of fans of the fellow competitors and teams as anyone else.

“I’m thrilled because at this point we all want to see all of the best wrestlers,” Russo said. “I have a lot of coaches I know and wrestlers that I know enjoy just watching as well as wrestling every year. This gives them the best of both worlds.”

Up to the 2009-10 season, Section VI wrestled the state qualifier at NCCC, and when it got down to the finals in each wrestling class, a mat on one end would feature the Division I championship and the other, the Division II championship. The action is non-stop and quite entertaining.

There’s also something special about the wrestling championships — the aura of them and the announcing of the championships bouts is like no other event at this level.

When NCCC could no longer host, the state qualifier went to two venues. The large school happened to be at Lake Shore High School, which received rave reviews as a host, but the event just wasn’t the same as when every team was together.

At the time, I spoke with athletics director Daryl Besant, who was busy enough with his crew of faculty and volunteers just hosting Division II. Lake Shore’s gym is a large facility, but hosting the entire championships would have been some undertaking.

“We did enjoy hosting it, but it will also be nice to just be coaching this year, instead of worrying about everything else. The guys who did well really enjoyed being here,” said Lake Shore head coach Bill Sills, who noted that he will be glad now to also watch small schools he’s familiar with such as Cheektowaga. “It’s nice for the coaches, too, because I’m good friends with Matt Haberl (of Cheekotwaga) and we go to camp with their kids, so now we can see them wrestle.”

Through relationships that UB has with its local high school coaches, a conversation began about getting it moved to the campus in Amherst. UB stepped in as a partner with Section VI, offering its arena as the venue but only on that Sunday, moving the date back from its usual Saturday. Section VI seemed more than willing to oblige. Alumni Arena gives Section VI the venue it deserves for this event.

Section VI also agreed to make it a one-day tournament, as well as making this weekend’s class championships go from two to one day. Class C’s Eden is one of the proud hosts for the five tournaments on Feb. 2.

Russo said coaches were given a chance to be part of the decision-making process and provide their input. He noted for the most part they appreciated how this was set up.

“Things developed nicely...and I hope things stay the same,” Page said.

E-mail Mike Petro at mpetro@thesunnews.net and follow on Twitter @MikePetroTheSun.
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