In the eyes of many Section 1 wrestling coaches, it may be time for a change.
For decades, there have been sectional qualifier tournaments one week prior to the Section 1 Championships — often referred to as divisionals — that determine which wrestlers will have the opportunity to compete for section titles. But some feel that these qualifiers have lost some of their luster and often leave a few deserving wrestlers on the outside looking in.
“I think it needs to be reevaluated because times have changed,” Harrison coach Vin Nicita said. “Now, with the points system, everything is reseeded after divisionals. The results from divisionals aren’t as important. Kids don’t have to worry about where they place anymore, which has taken away from the importance of divisionals. All it is is an opportunity to get hurt.”
Under the current format, all of the large school teams in the section are split up among four locations. The top four wrestlers in each weight class at each site are awarded with berths into the Section 1 Championships, which results in brackets of 16 per weight class.
Teams are divided up among the four sites based, in part, on how many returning All-Section wrestlers they have. But, as was the case this season, some weight classes end up being stacked at one divisional and relatively watered down at another.
The 182-pound bracket at North Rockland featured just two wrestlers. Neither had a record over .500, yet both automatically received a bid to sectionals. And while the 120-pound class at John Jay was filled out with 11 wrestlers, the top seed came in with a record of just 12-18. In a stark contrast, there were weight classes at other sites had as many as seven wrestlers with records of .500 or better.
“The positive of this tourney is that it gives everyone a shot to get to sections regardless of record,” Clarkstown South coach Brenden Rogers said. “The negative is that one division in certain weight classes can be loaded compared to another division.”
Aside from the unevenness in certain weight classes, many coaches cringe at the thought of their top wrestlers competing in intense matches just one week before the biggest tournament of the year.
Fox Lane senior Frank Surace, a returning section finalist, suffered a head injury in this year’s divisionals that prevented him from taking his final shot at a title. Others came away with typical bumps and bruises. As a result, we’ve seen more wrestlers opt to forfeit tough matches at divisionals to avoid injury or strategic disadvantages.
“It’s tough,” Nicita said. “For me as a coach, if my kid is the underdog, I like to see the guy two weeks in a row. You might lose the match, but you can find things that you can use against him the next week. If you keep it to within one or two points, it gives you some confidence going into sectionals. Whereas if you’re the favorite, it’s hard to beat a kid two times in a row.”
Coaches such as Nicita and Rogers seem to be in favor of a points system, which is currently used for seeding purposes and takes into account each wrestler’s entire body of work.
“A possible alternative could be a two-day, 32-man section championship,” Rogers said. “The top 32 in the section are in by the points system. We use two days for the sectional tourney, anyway.”
But while the points system seems to have some benefits, Section 1 coordinator Jamie Block and President of the Coaches Association Pete Vulpone cautioned that relying solely on points may not achieve the desired results.
“It is very difficult to go from 40-something wrestlers in a weight class to 16 without a qualifier,” said Block, who noted that it would be difficult to find a venue that could handle a tournament that included 32 in each weight class. “I have a major concern with accuracy of points and coaches padding their schedules. It would mean revamping our entire points system. We at present have numerous checks and balances in place to correct this, but it may get very difficult.”
Vulpone, who is the head coach at Yonkers, said that, “We’ll definitely look at it over the offseason,” but stressed that eliminating divisionals could leave Section 1 and its coaches vulnerable to criticism.
“The last thing that we want to do as an association is pick and choose who makes it. You’re always going to have that angry parent who says, ‘Why didn’t my kid in get in?’ ” he said. “Maybe we could do a combination of both where the top three at each divisional qualify, and then leave the last four spots for the kids with the most points.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get a perfect system. As long as you get the top 10 or 12 guys (to sectionals), we’ll be OK.”