The field for the first Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association tournament has been set and region teams are conspicuous by their absence from the 24-team event.
No need to get our singlets in a bunch though. There was no snub, no oversight. Invitations to the Dec. 22 tourney at Westfield High School were extended to Crown Point and Merrillville, and both declined.
The two schools are reportedly the only ones to pass, but Bulldogs coach Scott Vlink assured that it's nothing personal.
"It's a great idea. I'm behind the coaches association and their effort to do it," Vlink said. "We just decided not to go. No. 1, we really like our schedule. Two, it's kind of at an awkward time. I feel this way about Christmas break and I've felt this way forever. Christmas, for the majority of our kids, is the most sacred time of year, a time to spend quality time with their family, and I think it's important to give them that time to do that. If we compete over Christmas, we're basically taking that away."
Merrillville likely isn't participating because it wrestles in the Al Smith Mishawaka Invitational, which is Dec. 27-28. I couldn't reach Pirates coach David Maldonado, but I'm guessing the short turnaround between tournaments was the reason he passed.
"Teams have contractual obligations," Hanover Central coach Nick Petrov said. "They don't want to break contracts. We have a limited amount of tournaments and dual meets on the schedule. It's not an easy thing to do at the last minute. If we would've been invited, we would've had to have dropped something."
Despite having two state champions in 2012, Hanover wasn't on the IHSWCA list, but Petrov wasn't complaining.
"We just didn't meet the criteria based on the formula," he said. "I have no problem with the way they determined it. They're all good teams. I'd love to be able to go and watch."
In the formula, teams accrued points for last season's state tournament performance of underclassman wrestlers, meaning Hanover wouldn't get any credit for graduated state champion Paul Petrov. The IHSAA has gone back to the old format of determining a team state champion, where points are awarded for individual advancement. Ironically, Hanover would've finished fourth last year using that criteria.
"That scoring system favors smaller teams," Petrov said.
If Hanover makes the IHSWCA invitational field in the future, Petrov said he will consider going. Vlink said the same, though it's not likely in C.P.'s case if it remains in the same spot on the calendar.
"We'll always consider it. There just always are factors that may prevent us from accepting," Vlink said.
Would the tournament be better with region representation? Of course. Would it be nice if NWI had a player in it? Yes. One way or the other, the area is arguably the strongest part of the state in wrestling, and that's not going to change.
"It'll be a really good invitational," Vlink said. "But as far as we're concerned, it's just an invitational tournament. It has no credence in terms of the state championship."
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.