Grappling with the system


Two years ago Chris De Vilbiss was a sophomore in his first varsity season at Liberty. Having just earned third place at the Carroll County Tournament, he was wrestling at the top of his game.

"I got to stand on the championship podium for the first time in my life. I really felt good about myself," said De Vilbiss, who could hardly wait to compete in the next weekend's regional tournament, a qualifier for states. "My confidence was definitely there, but I knew there was a chance I might not get in."

His hunch was right.

De Vilbiss did not accumulate enough points to make the regional tournament, primarily because he split time with two teammates, going 11-7 over the 135- and 145-pound weight classes.

De Vilbiss didn't have any such problems qualifying for the 2A-1A West region to take place Friday and Saturday at Smithsburg in Washington County. The defending regional champ and returning state runner-up is The Sun's fourth-ranked 152-pounder with a 28-0 record that includes 20 pins.

He went from being a freshman fourth-string junior varsity wrestler with a .500 record to being a Class 2A-1A state title contender who recently won his second straight county title.

Spurred by his 10th-grade season, De Vilbiss went to the mat against the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

Seeking to expand each weight class in the region tournament to 16 wrestlers - it is now eight - De Vilbiss last month petitioned Carroll County Schools Superintendent Charles Ecker, who forwarded his proposal to Maryland Public Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick.

De Vilbiss learned last week that Grasmick turned down Ecker's request that she appoint a three-member panel of superintendents to hear his proposal.

"I'm disappointed," said De Vilbiss. "But I'm still going to try and get it done for next year."

De Vilbiss' proposal argues the MPSSAA seeding process "denies equal opportunity to the vast majority of competitors by arbitrarily eliminating 1,456 wrestlers before competition ever begins."

He criticizes the system's "carry-over" rule, which rewards wrestlers who placed in region or state competition the previous year. This "numerical bias" provides an unfair advantage to a select few, De Vilbiss states.

In a meeting on Jan. 27, De Vilbiss "did a wonderful job articulating his point," said Ecker. "The point system can penalize good wrestlers."

But state wrestling tournament director Duke Beattie said open regionals would likely mean a third day of wrestling and significant extra pay "for a ton of personnel."

"We're going to do all of this for that one kid that may or may not place third or fourth and qualify for states?" Beattie said. "On this one, the juice isn't worth the squeeze."

Added Beattie: " The pigtail provision in state regulations allows the ninth wrestler into the tournament under cases of an injury or extraordinary circumstance."

De Vilbiss was ninth-seeded as a sophomore.

"The eighth seed got in with a 14-14 record and four more points," said De Vilbiss. "If I hadn't shared the weight class, I'd have had 20 wins. I hoped to get a chance to show I had improved. ... Not making regions inspired me to work harder ... But that's not an excuse for not letting people in."

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