When the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association realigned the classifications and regions for 2017-18, few coaches were more excited than longtime South Carroll wrestling coach Bryan Hamper.
Montgomery County’s Damascus, winner of the past three Class 4A-3A state tournaments, was headed down from the big schools to join the four-time defending 2A-1A state tournament champion Cavaliers in the smaller-school classification. The debate for which public school team was better, in the eyes of Hamper, would finally be settled on the mats at the state tournament in March at Show Place Arena.
“Look at the storylines: Damascus comes into 2A-1A this year and they are going for their fourth straight state tournament title, we’re going for our fifth straight. What better way to have excitement at the end of the year than having two teams that have won the last seven state championships duking it out head to head for a team title?” said Hamper, who stepped down as head coach at South Carroll in late November but will still be associated with the program as an assistant. “That would’ve been awesome, but now we have to settle it a different way.”
The Executive Council and Board of Control of the MPSSAA both voted and approved in April proposed changes made by the state wrestling tournament committee. The changes increase the dual meet state tournament from two teams (2A-1A and 4A-3A) to four, giving each classification its own dual meet state tournament.
With the change, however, was another decision to discontinue the awarding of a team champion at both individual state tournaments at the end of the season. Scoring at the regional tournaments was also eliminated.
There has been at least one team champion at the individual state tournament each year since 1970, while two dual meet state champions have been crowned since 1994, according to the MPSSAA record book. There is no change to the system for individuals qualifying for the individual state tournament, and the individual regional tournaments will remain the same — four regions in both 2A-1A and 4A-3A.
Michael Duffy, the MPSSAA wrestling tournament director and assistant to committee director Brian Layman, said the changes were made to give 1A and 4A schools “more of an opportunity,” considering that 2A and 3A schools have historically dominated the dual meet state tournament. In addition, “the argument is that [the duals] are more in line with what is a team champion,” he said.
Duffy added that eliminating the team champions at the state tournaments was to stay consistent with the other sports, and no sport has more than four state championships in a season.“So if you go to four classifications, that’s four champions,” Duffy said. “But if you have two tournament champions, that’s six champions, and you run into the issue.”
Hamper, who has long considered the individual state tournament the “true team championship” and coached his wrestlers to compete for bonus points at the state tournament to win the team title, said he believes going to four dual meet state tournaments is a “a step forward.” But doing so at the expense of the state tournament team champions hurts a team like South Carroll. The Cavaliers had six wrestlers in the state finals to edge Middletown for the individual state tournament title last winter but lost in the 2A-1A West regional dual tournament semifinals, which Middletown won easily for the third straight year.
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“The same thing that helps the 1A schools now being able to compete for a state title actually is the same argument that can be made for my team, that it’s now taken away our opportunity with six guys to win a team state title at the state tournament,” Hamper said. “I don’t feel like it was right to have it all or nothing. ... For someone like us, where our strength is in individuals, now it doesn’t give us a chance to compete with the Damascuses or the Middletowns at the end of the year, where their strength in numbers at dual meets is stronger than ours.”
Glenelg coach Matt Bichner and his team have been on the other side of the argument. The Gladiators went 28-2 in dual meets in 2015-16 and won the 4A-3A East region dual meet tournament before falling to Oakdale in the state semifinals. Less than a month later at the individual state tournament, Glenelg failed to have any wrestlers place and scored only 7.5 points to finish 46th in the team standings.
The Gladiators went 27-3 last winter and this time reached the state dual meet tournament finals, where they fell to Damascus, before finishing seventh at the individual state tournament.
“I never thought team scoring at the individual tournament was indicative of team success since all you need is three or four ‘studs’ to win a title,” Bichner said.
Under the new format, several teams are set to benefit. Dunbar reached the 2A-1A state dual meet tournament final two years ago, and coach Doug McClain feels his team can win the 1A tournament this season if it can get past Sparrows Point, which also dropped to 1A. In 4A, one of the top Anne Arundel County schools like South River, Broadneck or Old Mill no longer has Glenelg, now in 2A, standing in their way in the region.