Pictured here is the 195-pound bracket at last weekend’s New England Qualifier. There were three spots in the 8-man bracket that sat empty because of no-shows. PAT McDONALD/Journal Tribune

Pictured here is the 195-pound bracket at last weekend’s New England Qualifier. There were three spots in the 8-man bracket that sat empty because of no-shows. PAT McDONALD/Journal Tribune

The 2018 New England Qualifier was a success in terms of fans getting a chance to see a ton of great wrestling and Maine putting together a strong group of wrestlers for the tournament in Providence this weekend.

But one thing that stood out was the amount of wrestlers who did not show up to the meet. While some had to miss the tournament because of injury, that’s not the case for all the no-shows. In all there were seven brackets that had at least one missing wrestler — including the 182-pound weight class that was missing two and the 195-pound bracket that had three empty spots.

“I don’t agree with the kids being able to pull out of a tournament like this. To me you made the commitment to be here, you should be here and you should be wrestling,” said Kennebunk coach Steve Young, who was one of several coaches disappointed with the level of attendance. “We hold our kids to the extent that that’s what they signed up for. If your season continues, you’re wrestling. Even the kids that don’t qualify, they are required to be there at practice and if they don’t go, I don’t give them their varsity letter — it’s pretty simple.”

The current Maine wrestling postseason features two regional tournaments in both Class A and Class B followed by two state meets. The top four from each state tournament earn a trip to the New England Qualifier, which then sends the top three in each weight class to New Englands.

Some coaches feel that in order to fix the problem at the New England Qualifier, the state needs to restructure the entire wrestling postseason — starting with going from two state meets to one large tournament.

“I think we need to separate the state into four regions and have one state (tournament) with 16-man brackets. Top four from each region, have a 16-man bracket and I think we’re going to get our best wrestlers,” said Biddeford coach Steve Vermette. “We still don’t get our best wrestlers (at the qualifier). People choose not to come, but there will be no choice here. If you want to be a state champion, you have to come to this tournament.”

Several coaches who spoke with the Journal Tribune last weekend agreed with Vermette.

“I would love it. I would love to do one class. Even some of the bigger states have one class. California has one class, New Jersey has one class, and then you have some big states like PA, they only have two and there are so many wrestlers in those states,” said Noble coach Kevin Gray.

Skowhegan coach Brooks Thompson thought the Maine Principals’ Association made a smart move when they went from three classes to two a few years ago, but he also feels it may be time to go a step further.

“I mean I’m in favor of a single class. I just don’t think we have enough teams in the state of Maine. You look at (some) of the tougher states in the country and they have a single class. We just don’t have the teams to really have more than one class, and that’s been quite obvious,” said Thompson. “I’m happy that they moved to two classes now and added an All-State tournament, that’s great but maybe just a restructure, call (the New England Qualifier) states instead and restructure everything else.”

Wells coach Scott Lewia has led the Warriors to back-to-back Class B state championships over the past two years, but he would be in favor of one state tournament if there are four regional meets and it’s structured the right way.

“That’s actually how it was when I was in school,” said Lewia, who would like to see the state meet back in a larger venue. “Hopefully we can get back to the Civic Center.”

Longtime Mt. Ararat/Brunswick coach Erick Jensen believes the move to one state tournament is possible in the near future.

“I think we’re getting close. I’m seeing Class B almost going to where Class C used to be. It’s kind of losing some numbers and you look at (152 pounds) in Class B, they only had four kids or something like that, it was terrible,” said Jensen. “I can see in a few years that it gets to one class.”

Young would like to see Class A and Class B stay intact, but he is also in favor of having the two classes feed into one state tournament.

“I’m not a fan of one class. I fully believe that what they should do is hold the regional tournament the way they do now, turn your (current state tournament) into your class tournament and then you hold this tournament as your state tournament,” said Young.

One idea that several coaches were in favor of was creating a dual meet state tournament at the beginning of the postseason.

“I understand the B schools and the smaller schools are worried about being able to compete but I think we should do a dual meet tournament, A and B, and then a state individual (tournament),” said Gray.

“I think there could still be a team tournament for Class A and (Class) B, but an All-State individual tournament,” added Lewia.

Not all coaches are in favor of the switch to one state tournament as longtime Marshwood coach Matt Rix is afraid the move might hurt smaller schools.

“I don’t know, I mean whatever is best for the state. I think they’ve done what they can already with doing away with Class C,” said Rix. “I think they should keep the classes or things are just going to get watered down and you’re going to kill programs, the ones that are struggling and co-oping I think they are going to lose some. I don’t think it’s the best thing for us right now to go to one (division).”

Rix believes that one change that could help the state is realigning Class B which currently has double the teams in the North region as it does in the South.

“I think if there’s any restructuring, I think some of the B (schools) from the North, bring some of those down our way and restructure that way. I think A is pretty good as far as where we stand with numbers. I think if they do anything they should work with (Class B) a little bit because one (region) is lopsided,” Rix said. “I think keeping A and B is important for some of the smaller B schools to be successful and to continue building wrestling. I think if they go with one (division) we will have a problem.”

The hope of some coaches is that making the current New England Qualifier the new state tournament will take care of the problem of kids not showing up.

“I mean it would be great. If you could make the kids show up and have an end goal because right now (some) kids are like, ‘oh, I don’t want to go to New Englands,’ but if this was the state tournament it would be all different. But it’s because it’s called the New England Qualifier, that it changes,” said Thompson.

“I think so because kids would all come,” said Jensen on whether the switch would help. “The quality would be there. It’s disappointing when the kids don’t show up when the coaches have spent so many years trying to get the MPA to sanction this tournament.”

Vermette understands that the smaller programs may be wary of a one-class system, but the longtime coach believes there is a way to make it fair for all schools.

“You’re going to have to realign. You will be able to realign it fair. I don’t know if it comes out to 16 teams per region, I’m not sure how many schools, but it’s around that. Make it fair, make it competitive,” said Vermette. 

The whole reason for a change will be to make the sport stronger throughout Maine, according to Vermette.

“I think one class is the best thing that can happen for our state. It’s going to bring out better wrestling. Right now in some parts of the North they are so weak where there is just one dominant kid. If you mix it up a little bit you will get better competition,” Vermette said. “In some cases in your regional matches you have a bye to the (semifinals) because there’s not enough kids. That just can’t happen anymore. If we want to promote our sport and for it to thrive we can’t have that anymore.”

Thompson echoed that sentiment.

“I think we just constantly have to be going in the right direction for the sport,” Thompson said. “(Creating the New England Qualifier) was a great stepping stone, I think this is only the fifth year, but I mean I think now it’s time to think about what’s the next step to continue to grow the sport in the state of Maine.”

Sports Editor Pat McDonald can be reached at [email protected] or at 282-1535 ext. 322. Follow the Journal Tribune Sports Department on Twitter @JournalTsports.

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