I guess it may take a brawl for the TSSAA to agree with its wrestling coaches.
For the past two years the coaches have suggested that the state association back away from its decision to have opposing teams sit side-by-side as they compete.
It isn't for lack of room or even convenience that the TSSAA has refused to change its ways.
It isn't for any reason conceivable, at least to the coaches, whose teams are opposite each other all season and then brought together, literally within a couple of feet, for the state duals.
They hear what opposing coaches are saying, whether it is strategy or the occasional derogatory remark, and what comments come from guys they might wrestle or have just wrestled.
They're separated by a piece of plastic picket-like fence no more than four feet high.
Logistically, the change is sensible. Less exposed cable; the team areas located farther from the fans.
But the proximity to each other almost caused problems two years ago. A fan in the stands rained down hateful comments to a wrestler, and one of the wrestler's coaches heard the uncalled-for abuse. The coach, an assistant, wound up sitting outside on the team bus as his team went for the championship. And the TSSAA officials? They were more worried about restoring order and maintaining discipline. Never mind what happened and why and how to avoid it in the future.
That was the second-hottest topic among coaches last weekend in Franklin. Number one, among most coaches and almost all of the fans, was the questionable officiating. Among the most vocal were the fans from Maryville Heritage, who had seen Keagan Matlock, their 170-/182-pounder, get a pin that went uncalled. He then suffered a knee injury, reported at the time as a possible ACL tear, and was forced to default the match. And for the record, it looks as if Matlock is through for the year as he was not listed for a possible seed at the Region 3 tournament coaches' meeting Tuesday.
But it wasn't just the missed pin calls, and there were more than one. It was referees being out of position to see reversals, worrying more about counting near-fall points than the pin, refusing to give a takedown when one wrestler was still clearly inbounds and in control.
Some were slow to get down to look for back points; others were too quick to call potentially dangerous. One even called locked hands when the controlling wrestler's hands simply brushed. Another was overly worried about the wrestlers timing his whistle to start, and a record was probably set for pre-start cautions, which is, despite the rules, often a matter of interpretation. Believe me, there were sticklers, most of them rookies trying to show their expertise.
One whistled an unsportsmanlike conduct on a winner who, in his exuberance, ran over and hugged his coach before shaking hands with the loser. But that one wasn't nearly as bad as the referee who, even though the match was over, penalized a team because one of its wrestlers was in front of the bench with his straps down.
The point I'm making is that this group of referees, several of whom I'd never seen before at a state event, were as inconsistent as a bunch of pansies in a bouquet with a cactus.
Yes, I know they were being evaluated, and I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the evaluators filled more than one notebook. I know these guys and I know one of their primary hopes is to improve officiating statewide. And I respect what they do, but they have a long way to go and, please don't forget, they're dealing in some case with some rather large egos.
I'm sure the TSSAA was trying to get each of the rookies a state tournament taste because of next year's addition of an A/AA traditional tournament and the need for more officials, but I'd like to see the association take a different approach, making all officials attend a traveling school once or twice a year to try to get them all on the same page.
And if you believe it was anything close to a high-water mark for officiating, ask your friendly neighborhood wrestling coach.
Me, I can live with the "Cow Palace." It's easy to slip on some lightweight long johns so I don't freeze. I can even tolerate the lingering odor of its more frequent participants, but please don't ask the wrestlers, the coaches, the fans or me to believe that what we saw was much more than so many cow patties.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...