By Ward Gossett
Assistant Sports Editor
Maybe it's a knee-jerk reaction but I thought often about the Mat Jam Sunday as I drove home and my thoughts weren't exactly positive about my first encounter Saturday with the Southern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference wrestling championships at North Carolina State.
First and foremost, I was surely more fortunate in some ways than the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team. I got to stay over Saturday night and drive back from Raleigh on Sunday because I have a boss who cares and who probably nudged and fudged his budget for an unplanned expense. The wrestlers who had just won the SoCon title and qualified nine for the NCAA tournament were headed home on an eight-hour bus ride before I got back to the hotel. I thought about it Sunday morning when I got up and saw that big school-owned University of Maryland bus still sitting in the hotel parking lot and when I visited with one of the University of Virginia coaches on the elevator.
OK, some teams I could see going home afterward. After all, we were in the education triangle that includes North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke. Greensboro is less than 100 miles away and Boone, N.C., home for Appalachian State, isn't that far.
I'm more fortunate than some. I stayed Saturday night because my boss didn't want me driving seven or eight hours after working all day. And I didn't even have to win a conference championship.
I didn't bother asking Mocs coach Chris Bono or his wrestlers what they thought about hopping on the bus for the late-night drive. Part of it, the part through the mountains, wound up being through somewhat heavy snow and they got home about 6:30 yesterday morning. What could he say that was honest yet politically correct and wouldn't cost him an invite to his boss' office?
And just so you know, I'm probably going to hear from Bono for writing it.
But that's just one of the bones I would pick.
Raleigh, N.C., is basketball country. Always was and probably always will be. It was evidenced by the concession stand workers huddled around a small TV watching N.C. State play somebody and by the absence of the little fan- and media-friendly things one has come to expect from working so many Tennessee state high school wrestling tournaments at UTC's McKenzie Arena and Maclellan Gym and elsewhere.
Maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there appeared to be two small tables for the media. One of those was devoted to the ACC's Internet broadcast of the tournament (finals only, I'm told), and there might have been room for two or three people at the other. I was told there was one section of seats on the floor level of the gym "for other media," and there was no place to set up in the main floor area to work, to set up a computer, much less plug it in. If I wanted to write, I would have to go to a workroom. Never mind keeping up with the tournament.
(As an aside, the closest thing I got to help or even just information from a sports information type was Appalachian State's Simon Ault, who was peeved almost as badly as I. He was the only Southern Conference media type in attendance -- to the best of my knowledge. And I don't think either conference office had a media representative on hand. Basketball, you know, basketball.)
Back to the workroom. It was shared already with table workers on break. If you happened to be working when coaches had a meeting -- deadlines didn't matter -- you were asked to give them some privacy. In other words, "Get out, and I could care less about your deadline, your job or its demands."
I finished typing results and the lead story plus getting comments from Bono in my car, which I'm thankful has a 110 AC outlet. The only saving grace was that I could get still get access to N.C. State's guest wireless Internet from aforementioned car, and it kept me from having to waste time hooking up my cell phone to the computer and waiting on a DSL connection.
I have yet to see the first updated bracket that wasn't on the Internet, much less a bout sheet.
But let's back up a minute. I had to make the first contact with the host school's Sports Information Director about covering the tournament, and I think it was three weeks later that he finally responded via E-mail with a PDF credential request that I had to fill out and fax back. I never heard another word. I didn't know if I had credentials or if I was going to have to cover this one from the stands, which I wound up doing anyway. Here I must interject to say that Mike and Karen Parker can be as entertaining as they are informing.
And let us talk about being fan-friendly. I don't think these basketball purists pretending to be wrestling enthusiasts believe in it. I don't think the announcer said once during the day what the team scores were for either tournament until the tournaments were concluded. Yes, they're two small tournaments under one roof, but there were no match boards and nowhere to get the team scores. They have a gondola-type scoreboard similar to the one in McKenzie Arena but it ran repeatedly only pairings.
Bono gave me a set of brackets Friday night or I would have been buying a set Saturday about noon when they became available, although the tournament started at 11.
I pity the guy, if there was one, who attempted to cover both tournaments on a deadline, but there's more to fan-unfriendly.
It was in the 70s outside and close to 90 inside where fans were sitting. Surely the gym has A/C, but it wasn't on and there were notes taped to the windows asking that all windows remain closed. There was, to the best of my knowledge, one set of restrooms on the fans' concourse, and there must have been another ACC game on TV Saturday night because the concession stands were closed before the championship finals were at their mid-point. Several folks found a vending machine downstairs and there was a line of people scrambling to find dollar bills and/or change. I'm sure they were there somewhere but I don't recall seeing more than one water fountain.
Updated brackets? I don't think so.
It wasn't all bad. Honest. As a matter of fact, one could say that the tournament probably was wrestler-friendly, even if locker room space was crimped. There was a bullpen area with two mats where wrestlers could warm up and they had an area set aside with sports drinks, water and snacks for the competitors. And give them another plus -- well, at least a passing grade -- because the tournaments ran pretty much with precision.
But guess what? I heard at least one referee who had tracked down a tournament worker to ask for water and/or sports drinks for himself and his peers. Ever try to get through a tournament without referees?
And I still think if the announcer had worried less about the pomp and ceremony surrounding the championship finals and the awards ceremonies that he might have had time to announce the team scores.
Oh by the way, congratulations to the N.C. State wrestling team, which surprised a lot of folks by winning the ACC half of the tournament. At least they got their part right.
E-mail Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org