A move by the NJSIAA to add a week to the dual meet season in wrestling – pushing back both the 2013 state team and individual tournaments – has Toms River Regional School District officials looking at the calendar and trying to see if it can continue to host some of those state events.
Since 2004, the Toms River district has hosted the state team group championships and the Region VI event at Pine Belt Arena. The dates are usually booked well in advance, with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association setting the following year’s tournament schedule even as the current tournament is finishing.
But a complicated series of events that led to the state individual championships being set for the second weekend in March created a problem: As scheduled, the tournament calendar would now have a 13-day gap between the region tournament and the state finals, a gap that would mean wrestlers being forced to maintain their competition weight for that entire time, a situation that for most involved in the sport was not only problematic but unfair to the wrestlers.
On Thursday, the NJSIAA's wrestling committee decided to instead push the entire state competition calendar back one week — putting the gap at the end of the dual meet season instead.
A woman in the athletics office of the Toms River Regional schools said only, "They're working on it," in terms of seeing how and whether Pine Belt Arena's schedule can accommodate the changes. Joe Arminio, the district's athletic director, was in a meeting and unavailable to comment.
The events that led up to the change are complicated.
In the spring, the NJSIAA's contract with Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City expired. Boardwalk Hall has hosted the state individual championships nearly every year since 1992, the exceptions being 1998 through 2001, when Boardwalk Hall was undergoing extensive renovations. One of the primary goals was to reduce the costs, as under a 2010 state law the NJSIAA is limited in how much it can charge for tickets to the event.
Several reports have said the NJSIAA was negotiating with the IZOD Center, which hosted the finals in 2000 and 2001, to less than favorable reviews. At the same time, Boardwalk Hall booked Lady Gaga for a concert for the first weekend in March — the weekend the state wrestling finals have been held for more than a dozen years — even as it waited for the NJSIAA's decision.
When news of the Lady Gaga concert leaked out, a firestorm ensued, with Boardwalk Hall officials insisting the NJSIAA told them the second week of March, and NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko denying that claim. A press release from the NJSIAA said that other locations like the Prudential Center in Newark were booked for the first weekend in March.
Then days before the NJSIAA was to announce the 2013 venue, officials at the IZOD Center backed out of the negotiations, citing scheduling conflicts. That left the NJSIAA with no choice but to accept the dates offered by Boardwalk Hall, which was the second weekend in March. And it left the NJSIAA with the significant problem of how best to accommodate the wrestlers, who would be the ones most directly impacted by the change in finals dates.
Timko said the move was made in the best interests of the student athletes. "Their well being is always our main priority, and we all agreed that it was not appropriate for them to have to maintain peak condition for a 13-day period between the regional finals and state championships," he said. "With this decision, we've trimmed the gap down to one week, which has always been the standard time gap during previous seasons."
At least one local coach is not as convinced. "I am not really crazy about moving team states, districts, regions and states one week later," said Howell Coach John Gagliano. "I would have preferred to have districts and regions and then have states two weeks later."
As it stands now the current schedule has the group sectional final at the home of the higher seed on Feb. 11, 13 and 15 which is one week later than normally scheduled. The Group finals are still scheduled to be held at Pine Belt Arena on Feb. 17 rather than Feb. 10.
Districts are also now a week later, set for Feb. 22 and 23 while Regionals are Feb. 27, March 1 and 2.
With the change teams will also now be able to schedule matches until the start of Sectional finals on Feb. 11.