FRANKLIN, Tenn. — The face of wrestling in Tennessee is getting a makeover.
There likely will be more teams next year in Division I, but they'll be separated into Class AAA and Class A/AA categories. And Division II, if the TSSAA mindset remains the same, will have qualifying tournaments for its state event.
There are only two state tournaments in the TSSAA's broad spectrum that do not have qualifying events, and both are in wrestling -- Division II and girls. Division II coaches don't really want a qualifier, and there aren't yet enough girls' teams to justify qualifying events.
What the changes mean for the Chattanooga area is that East Hamilton, Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy will be leaving Hixson, East Ridge, Notre Dame, Red Bank and Signal Mountain and moving into the newly formed AAA region with Bradley Central, Cleveland, McMinn County, Rhea County and Walker Valley. It's an eight-team region that would contain the bulk of the state's wrestling power.
The state association plans to use the region alignments for both AAA and A/AA dual and traditional postseason events.
There also will be traditional qualifying tournaments for AAA and for A/AA, basically doubling the postseason.
There is a proposal that will be made to change some of the proposed regions so that all are of equitable size. Under the current plan, Region 5 and Region 6 in the midstate area will have 18 and 15 teams, respectively. That proposal would move Bradley Central, Cleveland, McMinn County and Walker Valley to Region 3 and move Cookeville, Coffee County, Franklin County, Lawrence County, Lincoln County, Shelbyville, Tullahoma and Warren County into Region 4 with East Hamilton, Ooltewah, Soddy-Daisy and Rhea County.
A/AA teams would have three regions -- the one involving Chattanooga-area teams to be held at Hixson -- with the top four individuals in each weight class advancing to a 12-man state tournament. Byes in a 16-man bracket would be determined by a blind draw.
A/AA coaches are welcoming the addition of their own tournament.
"It's an opportunity for success, and with success comes interest, and interest breeds success and growth," East Ridge coach Brad Laxton said. "All other sports are classified, so why not wrestling? I think you'll see growth of the sport among the smaller schools."
While the AAA traditional state tournament will remain a three-day event, it hasn't yet been decided whether the A/AA meet will be two days or three.
The TSSAA is open to a variety of options for Division II and likely will let those coaches make the decision. The only decision etched in stone is that the DII tournament will drop from a 16-man bracket to eight-man.
"We will leave [qualifying] to the Division II schools," said the TSSAA's Mark Reeves. "We'll tell them to give us eight wrestlers."
While a handful of private school coaches favor qualifying (region) tournaments, most do not, thus creating a dilemma.
"We might even go to an eight-man bracket with a pigtail," Reeves said.
Because of the state geography, most Division II teams are in the east and middle regions.
"What we might do is take the top six from East/Middle and the top three from the West with the No. 3 from the West wrestling No. 6 from East/Middle with the winner advancing into the eight-man bracket," Reeves said.
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 ...