Alaska wrestling has taken the first step back to having a unified season. In a coaches meeting following last week's Alaska Schools Activities Association fall state wrestling tournament, a decision was made to begin mending the separated seasons that have existed in the sport for nearly six years.
Although no clear direction has been identified as to how they will reach this goal, fall season coaches made it clear that they want a change.
"Whether we have to go to spring or fall, we're willing to do what we need to do," said Nikiski head coach David Martian.
Martian said in spite of the overlying push to unite the wrestling championships, coaches are still undecided how the season will be laid out.
"I kind of hear both sides," he said. "It's a real split. Teams would really go either way."
In 1996, ASAA split the Class 1-2-3A and 4A seasons, creating a September-to-December season and an October-to-February season, respectively. Before that, all wrestling in the state was done during identical seasons from January to April.
Further adjustments came when ASAA declassified wrestling for the 2000-01 school year, creating the current system of separate seasons in the fall and spring. ASAA allowed schools to choose the season in which they would wrestle.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District then levied a sweeping dictate that all peninsula schools wrestle at the same time in the fall. With the peninsula schools choosing a fall calendar, what worked for peninsula schools turned out to be what was best for many schools off the peninsula.
"I think our folks are pretty satisfied," said KPBSD Superintendent Donna Peterson. "It's really good for peninsula schools. It has allowed our students to stay on the peninsula for competition."
Homer High School athletic director and wrestling coach Chris Perk said he remains concerned about some athletes' transition from football to wrestling, but thinks the benefits of the fall schedule make it worthwhile to stay.
"I like fall," he said. "It's short. Kids don't get burned out as easily and we don't get as many injuries."
Rich Hofacker, coach at Anchorage Christian Schools, said he is content with wrestling in the fall.
"We have no intentions of moving," Hofacker said. "We plan to stay in the fall. It has really been an advantage. We're getting a lot more wrestling in the fall and a lot more wrestling matches."
Conflicts with basketball, football and volleyball continue to ring from coaches regarding fitting wrestling into one complete package.
"I know some of the big schools say there's a problem with football," Hofacker said. "But we're playing football now and wrestling.
"I don't think volleyball would want to move," he said. "All the other states play volleyball in the fall. To shift it to winter-spring would be a disadvantage to recruiting."
Hofacker said the basketball season produces the greatest challenge if a unified wrestling season moved to the spring, when many other Anchorage schools, as well as schools from Fairbanks, now compete.
"We'd have a real tough time going to that spring season, if basketball stays the way that it is," Hofacker said. "It would hurt both ways. Not just basketball. We have several athletes who would choose wrestling over basketball."
Ketchikan coach Rick Collins said basketball at its worst attracts more crowds than does wrestling at his school.
"In my school, basketball doesn't even have to win and we put over 2,000 people in the gym," Collins said. "Wrestling doesn't have near that kind of draw. If we went to spring, half the schools in our region wouldn't be wrestling."
Collins said wrestling coaches are blaming the culmination of basketball's season for much of the space that the spring sport holds on ASAA's calendar.
"Everybody's pointing a finger to basketball, to get Sullivan Arena for the tournament at the end of year," he said.
Perk said it is unfair that sports like wrestling should suffer to allow room for a March tournament.
"I understand that basketball is big sport in Alaska," Perk said, "but, there's a little bit of inequity."
Hofacker said there is a push among some basketball coaches to move away from an Anchorage tournament.
"A lot of basketball coaches don't like playing in Sullivan Arena," Hofacker said. "They prefer (the Carlson Center) in Fairbanks because you can fill up the arena a lot easier."
Still, a clear solution has yet to be reached. Although coaches have dreamed of their perfect world.
"The only real solution is to go back to the original schedule," Collins said, referring to the schedule in place before the 1996 vote. "If I had my ideal situation, we'd go back to the original schedule and be declassified."
Other coaches follow this idea.
"The only thing that would help would be to put wrestling back to where it used to be," Hofacker said.
Perk offered a solution that would alleviate the gridiron-to-grappling transition and clear some room for wrestlers who would be hoopsters.
"We should shorten football and start basketball a week later," Perk said."That way big schools keep football players."
Martian said the old standard worked before there was ever a split and can't see why it wouldn't now.
"The ideal would be to go back to the way it was before they changed everything," he said. "When there was nothing broken. Wrestling did survive when basketball and wrestling were going on together in the past.
"We still lose kids to basketball and the numbers really haven't changed that much," he said. "If you get a really good coach, it doesn't matter what's going on. (Steve) Gillaspie is proof of that. He went to Kotzebue -- a basketball school -- and boom, there's 30 to 40 kids."
Nikiski assistant wrestling coach Gillaspie said much of the problem of conflicting schedules is a result of schools trying to take on more athletic programs than they can realistically handle. The first step, he said, to solving that and other problems is simple.
"Somewhere, somebody is going to have to say, 'No.'"
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