As a sports editor, I try not to let the considerations of the Peninsula Clarion sports section influence my opinion on prep sports issues. I try to let the philosophy of former Nikiski wrestling coach Steve Gillaspie be my guide: Do what's best for the kids, not what's best for the adults.
For instance, the pomp and circumstance of many Alaska School Activities Association events vexes me because all the time parading makes deadline a tighter and tighter squeeze. But I would never seriously advocate getting rid of such pomp and circumstance. It clearly makes the state experience that much more special for the athletes.
So it is with caution that I take the following position: The Class 4A and Class 1-2-3A state wrestling meets should be held under one roof, just like they last were in April 1997 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.
Full disclosure: Holding the tournaments under one roof again would make it easier to cover wrestling. Last Saturday, the final round of the Class 1-2-3A tourney started at 7:15 p.m. at Bartlett High School in Anchorage, while the finals of the Class 4A tourney started at 7:15 p.m. at Chugiak High School.
Such a schedule made coverage nearly impossible for Clarion sports reporter Mike Nesper, owing to the lack of cloning and/or Star Trek beaming technology.
Putting the wrestling tournament under one roof would make it easier for newspapers, but also for diehard wrestling fans who likely faced the same dilemma as Nesper on Saturday.
Coaches I talked to last week also said they would prefer the tournament under one roof. When retired Soldotna administrator Al Howard was on the ASAA Board and the tournaments were again moved to the same weekend, Howard expressed hope that the move would lead to the tournaments being under one roof again.
"I would definitely favor it," Skyview coach Neldon Gardner said. "We wrestle programs like Seward and Nikiski all year. It'd be nice to be able to watch how their wrestlers finish up at the state tournament."
Gardner has good reason to fondly remember the last state tournament at the Carlson Center, because his Panthers won that Class 4A state tournament. So does Nikiski, which grabbed the Class 1-2-3A state crown. And so do Clarion sports editors, because the dominance by the peninsula teams led to this immortal headline by former Clarion sports editor J.R. Rardon: "Reigning Cats and 'Dawgs."
Having the state tournament all under one roof works for everybody: players, coaches, fans ... and sports editors.
Watch out for Nikiski.
The Bulldogs wrestling team recently finished fifth at the state tournament, with just nine points separating it from third-place Cordova. What's more impressive is Nikiski did it with a young squad, only qualifying one senior, Matt Parker, at state. Five of the 12 state qualifiers were freshmen.
The team also won the Denali-Kachemak Conference title.
Parker credited the coaching staff with the team's success. And head coach Adam Anders, too, cited his coaching staff as an integral part of the accomplishments this season. In nearly every interview, Anders praises his assistants, attributing the squad's achievements to them.
Saturday at state was no different.
Having 11 state tourney returners can only help next year's team. And with half of them coming back as sophomores, the Bulldogs should be a wrestling force for years to come.
The Class 4A side isn't without young talent either.
Skyview's Auston Tennis, a sophomore, wrestled his way into the finals at 140 pounds this past weekend at state.
He met a formidable opponent in East High's Nathan Hoffer. With a win over Tennis, Hoffer became just the seventh wrestler in Alaska's history to win four state titles.
Although Hoffer won by major decision 17-6, Tennis was the only one to grapple with Hoffer and not lose by pin. Hoffer also earned the most outstanding wrestler designation at the Northern Lights Conference tournament. For a kid that didn't place at last year's state tourney, it was quite an impressive season for Tennis.
He'll be an important part of the Panthers' team next year, as they will graduate 12 seniors. And with Hoffer out of the mix, though it's a year away and barring any injuries and/or unforeseen circumstances, Tennis should be in a prime position to once again wrestle for the state title.
Mike Nesper and Jeff Helminiak work in the sports department at the Peninsula Clarion. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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