The NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championships will remain at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, but the three-day event — contested on the first full weekend in March in recent years — will be pushed back one week in 2013 because of a scheduling conflict with pop singer Lady Gaga’s concert tour.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, a longtime critic of the statewide athletics association, said he believed the NJSIAA created the conflict by initially reserving the wrong dates for Boardwalk Hall in preliminary discussions with the venue’s operators.
NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko denied Burzichelli’s claim, though it was supported by a Boardwalk Hall official.
The Atlantic City arena has been a popular venue for the event, which sells more than 40,000 tickets annually, with a wealth of lodging, dining and entertainment options nearby. However, the tournament’s postponement may create weight management issues for wrestlers and prolong the winter scholastic season for prospective spring athletes.
The delay also prevents the nation’s top college coaches from scouting the state’s best grapplers because the NJSIAA Tournament will run concurrent to the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Tournament, which is being held at Rutgers University the same weekend.
“It’s great for the fans, obviously, to have it down there, but it saddens me that the EIWA Tournament is going to be greatly affected by this, and maybe the state tournament as well,” said Brick Memorial coach Dan O’Cone, president of the New Jersey State Wrestling Coaches Association.
The NJSIAA will now also devise a way to fit wrestlebacks for Friday night’s preliminary bout losers into the tournament, after the executive committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the additional round.
Timko announced Wednesday that the NJSIAA, after unsuccessfully soliciting a bid from the IZOD Center, is expected to sign a three-year contract with Boardwalk Hall, which has hosted the tournament 19 of the past 21 years (the event was held at the Meadowlands arena in 2000 and 2001 while Boardwalk Hall was under renovation). Financial details were not available.
Wayne Hasenbalg, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, said the IZOD Center withdrew earlier this week because of several scheduling issues. Timko said the NJSIAA shopped around for a potential new state tournament home after hearing concerns from schools in Morris and Sussex counties about the event being in Atlantic City.
Lady Gaga, according to her official web site but not confirmed by Boardwalk Hall officials, has a March 2 concert booked at Boardwalk Hall. Greg Tesone, general manager of Boardwalk Hall, said the NJSIAA, during the summer of 2011, asked him to book the 2013 wrestling tournament for the second weekend of March.
“We had discussions with the NJSIAA in June of last year about what dates the tournament would be for 2013, and because we had somebody interested in some dates in early March, we wanted to make sure we were holding the correct dates for the tournament, and 8, 9 and 10 were the dates that they gave us,” Tesone said.
“So we went ahead and put them in the calendar for those dates and gave the other dates (first weekend in March) to somebody else.”
Timko said he never requested that the 2013 tournament be held in the second weekend of March.
“I am 100 percent certain,” said Timko, noting the NJSIAA’s Request For Proposal to Boardwalk Hall, submitted in June 2012, asked the 2013 tournament be held March 1-3. “I’m saying I don’t remember any discussion from back in 2011 about dates for Boardwalk Hall, and I don’t know why I would have said that I wanted to push it back a week.”
Timko said he has requested that the 2014 tournament be contested on the weekend of March 7-9, which is the first full weekend of the month that year.
“We’re sorry that the dates got screwed up like this,” Tesone said. “We don’t want to negatively affect the tournament.
“We love the tournament. We’re glad it’s coming back. But we tried to work this out ahead of time (June 2011) and unfortunately it just didn’t quite make it there.”