The 50th annual Tri-State Invitational, a popular high school wrestling tournament hosted each December by North Idaho College and widely recognized as the unofficial start of the wrestling season in the area, was cancelled for 2020, announced by organizers on Friday citing COVID-19 concerns.
The tournament and anniversary celebration, slated to take place this year Dec. 18-19, was rescheduled for Dec. 17-18, 2021.
“While this decision is being made for the health and safety of all involved, it is still devastating to the wrestling community,” said NIC wrestling coach Mike Sebaaly in a statement.
Coaches from two of the most successful high school programs in the area were understanding, but disappointed by the news.
“My first reaction was disappointment,” said Coeur d’Alene wrestling coach Jeff Moffat. “I don’t have all the logistics, but it feels like it might be a little premature to pull the plug.”
“I don’t blame them,” Mead wrestling coach Phil McLean said. “Everything changes day-by-day, hour-by-hour and we’re not the ones making the decisions so we just play by the rules we’re given.
“It’s just the way things are now. There’s not much we can control.”
McLean has had no formal contact with his athletes since Washington preseason for winter sports doesn’t start until Dec. 28 under the WIAA’s modified sports season calendar, but he indicated his wrestlers were hoping to participate at Tri-State regardless.
“We’re gonna do whatever we can do when we can do it,” he said. “If it had worked out and we could have made (Tri-state), absolutely, we would have been there. But it’s not going to happen this year. We’ll find the next thing we can do during our season.”
Each year, the tournament attracts hundreds of high school teams and individual wrestlers from Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington to the NIC campus in Coeur d’Alene. Many in the Pacific Northwest feel winning a Tri-State title is more difficult than winning a state championship.
NIC Athletics Director Bobby Lee said the decision to postpone the tournament is heartbreaking, because it is such an important milestone year.
“The history and tradition of Tri-State calls for any celebration to be done right, and we just can’t do that right now,” Lee said. “We cannot in good faith hold a tournament of this capacity safely in the middle of this pandemic. The safety of all participants is our number one priority.”
Sebaaly said moving the tournament to the spring was not an option due to competing regular season obligations and other large regional tournaments.
“It seems like they could have found a weekend somewhere for it,” Moffett said. “But I wasn’t part of the planning so I don’t have those kind of details.”
Wrestling season customarily begins in early November for NIC wrestlers. But this year, due to COVID-19, the NJCAA pushed the season out to begin in January, with competitions scheduled into the spring.
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