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State wrestling berths may not be fair, but they're equal

With regional wrestling fast approaching, it’s time to dredge up the annual debate over berths to state.

Saturday at Pasco and Ferris high schools, the Eastern Washington 3A and 4A regionals will pare down this entire side of the state to just three wrestlers in each 16-man bracket.

It’s a fact that doesn’t echo in fairness. For one, more than half the geographic portion of the state gets boiled down to less than 20 percent of the big-school berths.

Second, the CBBN (and Big Nine before that) and Greater Spokane League are steeped in wrestling tradition, producing some of the best teams and wrestlers in state history as well as three of the top five programs in each class.

Coaches routinely bring up the fact that state-quality wrestlers will be left at home next weekend while less talented individuals from weaker districts will get a ticket to Mat Classic in Tacoma.

And they are right.

But when they try to convince me the east side should get a larger share of state berths, I can’t help but feel they are dead wrong.

Now before anyone gets up in arms and tries to get me in a submission hold to change my mind, let me explain.

First, the allotment of state berths is solely based on population. More specifically, the number of schools in each class, in each district.

There are 66 4A schools, but just 13 on the east side of the state, or 19.7 percent. Three berths out of 16 is 18.8 percent, a fair representation and closer than four out of 16 berths, or 25 percent.

On the 3A level, 12 of the 65 teams are on the east side (18.5 percent). Again, right in line with three of 16 berths.

Based on population, it’s an equitable split.

I’ve talked about this with many coaches, and some will counter that because of the talent on this side of the mountains, why make the CBBN and GSL wrestle each other? Why not cross over between east and west in regionals?

There certainly is precedent for this. After the Mid-Valley was taken apart in the mass realignment of 2006-07, there weren’t enough 3A teams to sustain the region. So the Columbia Basin League (Big Nine meets Mid-Valley) and GSL wrestled a sub-regional, and teams from the Metro Conference came over for the regional.

That was a big hit for local coaches and fans, because the Metro played the part of the 98-pound weakling, and the East grabbed three and sometimes four berths per weight.

But then came 2009, when District 1 dropped by, bringing state powerhouses Sedro-Woolley and Ferndale to join with Sunnyside and Spokane schools East Valley and North Central.

Sedro-Woolley coach Jay Breckenridge said then that all those teams beating up on each other before state would hand the title to Enumclaw, and he was right.

Coaches at the time said this was just too tough a tournament to have leading into state, and I was right there with them. And I remember in that tournament some quality kids from Hanford getting left home.

Quality wrestlers missing out on state? Sounds familiar.

There is another reason east-west crossovers are out of vogue — and likely will remain so for a long time. It costs money to ship all those wrestlers from one side of the mountains to the other. With the price of gas rising each year and money in schools’ budgets shrinking, most ADs are looking for ways to save on travel.

I’m not sure there is an equitable split for state berths based on talent. But one thing I am sure of is this: The CBBN will have a hard time convincing anyone, let alone the intransigent WIAA, that strict division by numbers is unfair ... until the league’s coaches can walk their talk.

The same conditions that set coaches on edge about lack of berths to state exist in this weekend’s 3A regional, except it’s the CBBN teams getting the lion’s share of berths (5 1/2) and the GSL getting shortchanged (3). That division fits the numbers (eight CBBN schools, four GSL) but in no way represents a fair division in talent.

In other words, there are a lot of good Spokane wrestlers who would love to complain about only getting three berths to state, but they got left behind because they only got three berths to regionals.

The same holds true in cross country, where only two GSL teams advanced to the 3A regional — guaranteeing the CBBN one team to state — even though the distance running capital of the Northwest had four of the top five teams in the state.

I don’t hold it against coaches for wanting to get the best for their athletes, leading them to covet regional and state berths like they were gold. In fact, that’s one of the reasons coaches tend to be my favorite people.

But until someone gets serious and sets an example for the higher-ups to follow, nothing will change.