Prep coaches make the most of competition dates

Updated: November 2, 2010

By Rob Sherrill

It’s governed inside the circle by the National Federation rule book, but high school wrestling is anything but a cookie-cutter sport.

Rob Sherrill

One of the prime examples: the numbers of matches a wrestler is permitted to compete in from state to state.

The poster state for boxcar totals of matches, historically, has been Michigan. The state’s liberal match limit has resulted in significant numbers of wins for its standout wrestlers, especially in the recent past. These days, it’s not uncommon to see Michigan’s state champions record victory totals of 50, 55 or even in excess of 60 wins en route to a state title.

In 1992, the earliest year for which I have records, just over 20 percent (8 of 39) of Michigan’s state champions finished the season with 50 wins or more. By 2000, that number had grown to 46 per cent (26 of 64). Today, it’s commonplace. In 2005, 42 state champions — 3 in 4 – owned 50 or more wins, and this year the number was a record 82 percent.

In fact, 11 Michigan state champions posted 60 or more wins last year. Two Allegan High wrestlers, Taylor Simaz (now a junior) and current Michigan State University freshman John Rizqallah, each won 65 bouts at 125 and 189, respectively. Two-time state champion Taylor Massa of St. Johns High won 61.

Contrary to what you might think, though, Michigan wrestling isn’t the final frontier. The state does impose both date and match limits. Teams and individuals are limited to 16 days of competition, including eight matches that limit an individual to two matches and eight matches that limit an individual to five matches. That adds up to a 56-match limit per individual prior to the state tournament series. In fact, the Michigan High School Athletic Association wrestling handbook recommends a 40-match limit per individual.

Then there’s the state series. Add in a maximum of seven matches for the dual state series and a minimum of 10 matches in the individual state series — if you’re a state champion — and that 56-match limit can skyrocket to more than 70 in a hurry. Ditto for any state with a double state series.

Other states have an actual match limit as well. California’s limit is 40, although forfeit wins don’t count towards that maximum. Minnesota has a 36-match maximum and New Jersey limits its wrestlers to 30 matches prior to the district tournament.

Some states use a point system. Ohio is one of those. In the Buckeye State, a high school team and/or wrestler may participate in regular-season contests worth a maximum of 20 points. Events are assigned a point value as follows:

Points             Event             Wrestler’s Matches

1 point             Dual match             1-match maximum

1 point             Double dual            2-match maximum

2 points             Quad match             3-match maximum

2 points             One-day tournament             5-match maximum

3 points             Two-day tournament             10-match maximum (5 per day)

Any event in excess of two days would have two points added for each additional day (if more than 10 matches)

IN ORDER TO compete in the maximum number of contests, a team schedule must include at least four duals or double duals and no more than 16 points from tournaments. Teams who are unable or unwilling to participate in dual or double dual competition may schedule a maximum of 16 points. Dual tournaments are not a substitute for a dual or double dual. Any victory which counts toward the season record, including a forfeit, is considered a match.

The combination of competitions under this scenario allows some flexibility in total matches. Monroeville High teammates Logan Stieber (125), now an Ohio State University freshman, and current senior Cam Tessari (140) posted records of 55-0 and 53-0, respectively, last season and were among five state champions to post 50 or more wins, with 69 percent of state champions posting 40 wins or more.

Perhaps no state’s match limit allows more flexibility, however, than the one used in Illinois. The team date limit is based on a sliding scale from 14 to 18 dates, based on the number of tournaments a team competes in (the maximum four tournaments at 14 dates, no tournaments at 18). More than 99 percent of the state’s teams compete in the maximum four tournaments, which effectively puts the date limit at 14.

The individual match limit, however, is completely different: four tournaments and 21 duals. And that’s where the flexibility begins. Most teams schedule 21 duals, which allow a coach to pencil in his starting line-up for every dual. Overscheduling — more than 21 duals within the date limit — is permitted, but that requires occasional substitution to avoid an individual crossing the 21-dual limit.

Ready for some additional flexibility? If a team competes in a dual tournament, those matches count against a team … and an individual’s … tournament limit, but not the dual limit. So if a team competes in a two-day, 10-team dual tournament — assuming every team wrestles every other team — that team’s wrestlers could end the season actually competing in four tournaments (three individual, one team) and 30 duals, nine over the limit of 21.

It’s just one of the many allowable permutations of the state’s date limits and it’s why 26 of Illinois’ 42 champions had 40 or more wins a year ago.

Even in New Jersey, which still imposed a paltry 22-match limit as recently as the mid-1990s, half of the state’s 14 champions posted more than 40 wins a year ago, led by now-South Plainfield High sophomore Anthony Ashnault’s 44-0 record at 103. The lowest win total posted by a state champion was 34.

So while Michigan wrestlers still wrestle — and win — plenty of matches, win totals have progressively increased across the nation…though a move in the opposite direction is gaining traction.

Michigan’s 16-day competition limit drops to 14 days next year. It’s the kind of cost-cutting move that is being imposed by state high school associations nationwide as school districts struggle to pay bills. This year’s most drastic cutbacks occurred in Arizona, where the Arizona Interscholastic Association eliminated the dual state series and reduced the number of individual classes from six to four. It’s a trend that bears watching. n