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Christilaw: Wrestling needs a state team championship

I learned a long time ago that, if you want real answers to the existential questions of life, make sure there isn’t a governing body standing between you and the answers.

There will be no sporting nirvana, no panacea of competition so long as there are bodies like the NCAA and FIFA involved in the process.

From a practical standpoint, someone needs to make sure the trains run on time. And by that I mean someone needs to keep an eye on the bottom line, too.

At the same time, that means there will always be discussions about how time and money is allocated by these oversight groups and decisions will always get a good, sound second-guessing.

For example, I spent years railing about the way soccer and hockey treated overtime. Really? Penalty shots?

Why not have basketball do the same thing? If the game ends in a tie, why not have the winner determined by shooting free throws? It’s the same thing.

Over the years, I have grudgingly come to accept it as part of the way the game is played. Besides, from a practical standpoint and as a sportswriter who works on deadline, having a winner determined before your editors begin screaming for your copy is a good thing. I like that.

Other subjects remain open to debate.

This one has been eating at me lately: Why does the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association not crown a state wrestling team champion?

We spend a great deal of time promoting high school sports as team sports. Coaches approach them and coach them as team sports. We enjoy them as team sports.

And at the end of the wrestling season, the state treats it as a collection of individual champions.

“We should have state champions in every weight,” East Valley wrestling coach Craig Hanson said. “But we should also crown a team champion.”

I’m not quibbling about these championships – they are a great idea and they are a vital part of the state championship landscape.

I just think they don’t go far enough.

We should crown a team champion.

A wrestling season is really two different seasons rolled into one. A dual meet season, the type that identifies league championships, and a tournament season.

When you talk to coaches, they will differentiate between the two types of teams. They will readily admit that their team may not be a great dual-meet team, but that it should be a good tournament team. Or vice versa.

The difference is simple: A dual meet team competes at each and every weight class, from 106 pounds all the way through 285. One wrestler per class, and may the best lineup win.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. High school athletes don’t always distribute themselves evenly across the spectrum. Most teams end up with a logjam at some weights and scramble to fill others.

And as the wrestlers get heavier, their style changes. They get bigger and use leverage differently. And they get stronger.

And then there’s the strategy that goes into dual meets. Coaches work their lineup to create the most advantageous matches for their teams. That element is lacking from the tournament format.

A good dual meet team can be an effective tournament team, but good tournament teams aren’t necessarily good in a dual meet.

Tournament teams can make up for a lack in some weights with depth in others. If, say, you have two stellar 145 pounders, you can enter them both. You will occasionally see multiple wrestlers from one school compete against each other in tournament finals.

And, frankly, if you have a handful of stellar individual wrestlers who can reach the finals at a tournament, you will score well.

Hanson is an outspoken advocate for creating a team championship format.

“It just makes sense to me,” he insists. “You go all the way through the league season and crown a league champion and then scrap the whole format. It would only add one more week to the season to crown a state team champion.”

That desire is a big part of why Hanson created his annual Dream Duals tournament, which crowns a team champion rather than individual weight class titles. That tournament has become an institution on area teams’ schedules – and the schedules of top teams across the state.

And for now, it’s just going to have to be enough.

Steve Christilaw can be reached at steve.christilaw@gmail.com.

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