For the second straight school year, the Montana High School Association is changing weight classifications for the upcoming wrestling season.
Starting in the 2014-15 season, there will be 13 weight classes in Montana High School Association sanctioned wrestling competition. The change comes just one year after MHSA member schools adopted the National Federation's weight classes with the exception of keeping the 98-pound class for a total of 15 weight divisions.
The debate amongst wrestling coaches around the state to drop two weight classes for the upcoming season centered mostly around many programs’ inability to match rival teams in dual competition. This past season saw many, many forfeits in dual meets, and the elimination of two weight classes should change that some.
Chinook coach Perry Miller was one of two coaches to lead the charge to once again change up the weight-class structure in Montana high school wrestling. He and veteran Billings Skyview head man Rich Malia met with the MHSA board and presented the coaches' case. The MHSA board sent out a survey to the schools who offered wrestling asking an administrator to talk to the wrestling coach and vote on the amended weight classes of 13. When the schools returned their survey to the MHSA, 84 percent responded and 91 were in favor of the proposal to go to 13 weight classes. On May 15, the MHSA executive board took action to go from 15 to 13.
"We will see an increase in the level of competition throughout the state," Miller said in a recent interview with the Billings Gazette, adding competition for varsity spots in the wrestling room will increase and action will be more heavily contested at state and divisional tourneys. "We will see a lot more competition at the top and bottom end of the weight classes."
With the new format, the weight classes for the 2014-15 season will be, 103, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 205 and heavyweight (285). Last year's weight classes were: 98, 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and heavyweight (285). So basically, the coaches decided to combine 98 and 106 pounds into a 103-pound weight class, with the same being true for 195 pounds and 220 pounds becoming the 205-pound weight class.
For nine-time state champion Havre, filling out a dual lineup has never been an issue, no matter the structure of weight classes. Some years, the Ponies might be open at one or two weights, but for the past few seasons, they have run into rival teams who are open at six or seven different weight classes. The structure should give teams like Lewistown, Livingston, and many B-C schools a chance to field more competitive dual teams, and teams like the Ponies might not have to see so many of their own wrestlers not get matches at duals and dual tournaments.
For teams like the highly-successful Sugarbeeters, that’s the idea.
Miller said that for a school like Chinook, there are eight to 15 wrestlers on the whole team most seasons. However, with 13 weight classes the Sugarbeeters will be able to compete in a dual or dual tourney.
"The bottom line is we may have open weight classes, but can match them up and get a competitive dual," Miller said.
The forfeitures even go beyond dual tournaments.
Forfeits have become rampant in even Class A divisional and state tournaments. One way Class A is looking to remedy that is going to only two divisional tournaments, an East Divisional and a West Divisional. That proposal is being discussed this summer. But changing weight classes is another way coaches hope to make Class A and B-C divisional tournaments, where teams have smaller numbers, much more competitive. This past season at the state tournament, there were two open spots in Class AA at 98 pounds, six in A and five in B-C. At 106, there were two open spots in AA, five in A and two in B-C. At 220, there were three open slots in AA, one in A and zero in B-C. In AA, there were two openings at heavyweight.
"The coaches have determined it. They are down in the trenches," said MHSA executive director Mark Beckman. "Looking at the weight classes and taking 98 and 106 and combining it to 103, there were problems in filling those weight classes and to eliminate some of the forfeitures is where they were looking at it and their administration agrees. We need to at least try this. The same thing with combining 195 and 220 to 205. They have done a lot of research."