By JIM HOPKINS
Ten minutes after Bellmont was eliminated from the 17th and last (for now) IHSAA Team State Wrestling Finals Saturday, there they were, standing toe to toe, the IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox and Bellmont wrestlng coach Brent Faurote. They weren't exchanging pleasantries.
I didn't have to ease drop to know what was said in this conversation, which seemed to go on and on. Faurote, who called the commissioner to task last season for letting Yorktown grab a former state streeter from Franklin, a senior, and stick him in the Tigers' sectional lineup, was calling Mr. Cox out again, and making his case for what should have happened to the Team State Tourney.
The commissioner was likely pointing out the shortcomings of Team State Wrestling over the years. Faurote was asking why the tourney was not tweaked to make it better, instead of giving up on it.
Afterall, not too long ago, the IHSAA did a major tweak, trading the nation's most legendary single-class basketball tournament for a divisional tourney. Considering the dying condition of the old tourney, it was worked out great, especially for all those at the private schools across the state who major in athletics.
"No question, we had some problems with the Team State Tourney," Faurote admitted to me in a recent interview.
"Some of the coaches who didn't feel that their teams would be competitive at regional would sit their best kids out. Some of the matchups weren't great and attendance at some sites was not good," said the 24-year Bellmont coach, who took his 15th team to state last Saturday at Center Grove.
It would seem that wrestling coaches would want to support a tourney in their sport, a tourney which someday might right some inequities. Apparently, some coaches didn't get the memo and, undoubtedly, athletic directors were caught off guard. On the other hand, it was just wrestling!
Early on in the tourney, there was a matter of forfeits. As soon as a team clinched a team win at regional, semistate or even state, the tendency was to forfeit out the rest of the meet, denying kids who had dedicated years of their lives for a shot at being out there in a tourney setting and a chance to wrestle in the limelight.
This ploy surprised me. The IHSAA make a rule adjustment, and the forfeit era died.
This could not keep coaches from using subs. At one Bellmont Semistate several years ago, a Peru team came in and basically utilized jayvees. A lot of people paid six bucks to see one of the eight semistates and, instead, didn't have a chance to finish the popcorn. By 7:27 p.m. on that night, the mats were being rolled up as Bellmont dispatched the Tiger Jayvees rudely.
It a basketball team did that, the school would be on probation and the coach fired.
Cox undoubtedly brought up the fact that the coaches association, which is not run by the IHSAA, gave out the coaches' trophy going to the team which would have won state under the old and now future tourney format. Though the trophy was not taken that seriously, the idea of it irritated the IHSAA bosses. No sport can have two champs ... well, I guess there is four in basketball. Whups!
"Not enough people (wrestling fans) go to Team State. Maybe they spend their money the week before at individual state. Some years we have four matches that come down to the wire and it's so exciting. There are always great individual matchups and rematches from state the week before," said Faurote.
Bellmont has certainly had its share of exciting first-round matches over the years. Two wins over Franklin and victories over heavily favored Merrillville and Perry Meridian helped Bellmont to two runner-up finishes and a host of top-four medals. Some of those matches came down to the last takedown ... or first takedowns!
"Given the choice, I prefer Team State because I can take 25 kids, and they all feel important," explained Faurote. "Last week, we took four kids, who felt special. This past Saturday we took the whole team."
Most all states have class competition in all sports, including class individual and class team state wrestling tourneys. Ohio just started a team state mat tourney, with three classes. Illinois has had class wrestling for years.
Former Bellmont state runner-up Jason Hayes, now a coach in Illinois, noted that in his state the tourneys do not collide. Team state regionals were held the Tuesday after individual state, and the finals started that Friday.
"The coaches would have no reason to hold a kid out if individual state was over. That problem would be solved," pointed out Faurote on the Illinois model.
Indiana's coaches are trying to plan a mid-season replacement state tourney, on an invite basis, as early as next season. This would undoubtedly affect current tourneys, such as the Al Smith Classic, or Bellmont's tough Super Dual.
I'm sure this will offend the IHSAA.
On the other hand, it's just wrestling!