I’ve been in the sports world long enough to know you’re never going to make everyone happy.
When trying to determine who makes the playoffs, there’s always someone on the outside looking in. Whether playoffs are chosen by power rankings, region standings or outcomes of the area tournament, it’s never going to be fair according to everyone. Someone is always going to have room to complain.
It makes sense there are people who are upset about the recent reclassification for AHSAA wrestling. The idea of moving from divisions of 1A-5A, 6A and 7A to 1A-4A, 5A-6A and 7A was unexpected and at first glance didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Obviously I most closely follow Class 6A wrestling as both Wetumpka and Benjamin Russell have recently been on the top of those standings. But around Tallapoosa and Elmore counties, we have wrestling teams across five classifications — soon to be just three in the new two-year cycle — and all were affected differently by the move.
When I first dug into it, I thought making a division of 72 teams for 5A-6A when the other two divisions have a combined 66 teams seemed crazy. A lot of coaches agree. It certainly makes it tougher for the Benjamin Russells and Wetumpkas of the world, and it doesn’t do a lot to help a team like Tallassee, which has been on the cusp of greatness in Class 5A but could really struggle against bigger schools.
Look at Jasper, which was ranked in the top few in Class 5A all season long; then the Vikings faced Benjamin Russell and lost, 57-22.
The big reason for the change, according to the AHSAA, is 5A has been too dominant for the past two years. And it has. The likelihood was extremely strong a 5A wrestler or team is going to beat one of the smaller classes in 1A-5A. However, I just worry now the AHSAA has created a new problem in which 6A will be just as dominant over 5A over the next two years.
“I don’t think you correct a problem and make another one,” Tallassee coach John Mask said.
Upon further investigation, I do see a lot of potential for growth with the Class 1A through 4A teams. Whether I think winning is what sports are about or not, kids like to win. Success breeds success, as they say. The better a program does, the more kids want to participate; the more kids participating, the more likely a team is to do well on the big stage — especially in wrestling.
And Class 1A through 4A is where the sport needs the most growth. The flip side of those numbers shows that. With 26 teams in 7A (which has only 32 schools) and 72 teams in 5A-6A, it’s clear 1A-4A, which will have 40 total squads as of now, needs a resurgence.
Either way you cut it, there are positives and there are negatives, and that’s forever the case in high school sports — and there are problems even beyond high school. Should professional teams make the postseason just because they won their division even though their division is terrible and there are other teams sitting out that are ultimately better? Should more than half the teams in the NBA and NHL make the playoffs?
These are questions and debates that are really tough to answer. You all know I hate the way softball, volleyball and basketball allow everyone to make an area tournament under AHSAA rules. But what’s better? What’s the solution?
That’s a lot tougher to answer, and the same goes for wrestling.
I love the idea both Elmore County coach Jared Jones and Stanhope Elmore coach Hunter Adams suggested of breaking all participating wrestling teams evenly into three divisions strictly based on enrollment. That’s how every sport was done in Pennsylvania, but it did make for some confusion when a school was 3A in girls basketball but 5A in football.
With the competitive balance though, those lines are getting blurred anyway.
The good news about high school sports is they’re cyclical. If it doesn’t work for the next two years, the AHSAA is going to right its wrongs. But it’s never going to be perfect, and that’s something we have to accept.
Sports aren’t supposed to be easy, and life isn’t fair. So instead of complaining about the adversity, all teams can do is fight through it.