Silverton's Kaden Kuenzi (top) battles with Pendleton's Collin Primus in the 5A tournament in 2020. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Silverton's Kaden Kuenzi (top) battles with Pendleton's Collin Primus in the 5A tournament in 2020. (Photo by Jon Olson)

The OSAA wrestling championships will have a much different look this season.

Instead of taking place at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, its longtime home, the tournaments will be split into separate high school venues: Sandy (6A), Ridgeview (5A), Cascade (4A), La Pine (3A) and Culver (2A/1A, girls).

The OSAA executive board decided to make the change due to the Coliseum enforcing COVID restrictions for spectators and participants.

“It's a bummer, but at the same time, I think it can be a quality experience for kids," OSAA assistant executive director Brad Garrett said. "You're really highlighted at a single venue like that, on four mats.”

The executive board opted for separate tournaments after reviewing information provided by the OSAA staff. Garrett worked closely with Culver coach J.D. Alley – the wrestling representative from the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association – to formulate the alternative plan.

All of the boys tournaments will be single-day events on Saturday, Feb. 26, except for 6A, which will be a two-day event either Feb. 25-26 or Feb. 26-27. The girls tournament is set for Feb. 24.

It will mark the first time the state tournaments will be at a venue other than the Coliseum since 2007, the end of a three-year run at the State Fairgrounds Pavilion in Salem.

The revised state tournament format is a reflection on the COVID-shortened schedule of last season, when Newberg (6A), Cottage Grove (5A, girls), Cascade (4A), Redmond (3A) and Sweet Home (2A/1A) played host to separate culminating week championship events.

“We kind of got a preview to this, a prequel,” Alley said. “In terms of running the tournaments smoothly with separate tournament directors, we did that last year without the help of the OSAA. I feel real confident about that. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we wouldn't be having this conversation if the wrestling community hadn't accomplished that feat last season.”

Garrett said he and Alley were contacted by schools offering to play host to the tournaments.

“We didn't have to go very far,” Garrett said. “Those places that were chosen, every one of them has an infrastructure, not only a building but a wrestling community that's involved and understands what kind of things need to be done, and why.”

A change in NFHS rules last year that allows for wrestlers to compete in a sixth match in one day – provided it is a qualifying or postseason championship event – was helpful in scheduling single-day state tournaments. But the 6A tournament, with brackets of 24, requires two days to complete.

The OSAA is ironing out details on operating the tournaments within the limited venue capacity. At the Coliseum, a 200,000-square foot, 10,000-seat arena, the OSAA did not have to enforce limits on the number of team personnel and spectators. That will change this season.

“In 6A, before you ever start, you have 500 people in the gym, just wrestlers and coaches,” Garrett said. “It's likely our ticketing system is going to have to look differently. Potentially something like each wrestler would be allotted a certain number of tickets that they can distribute as they choose. But it's not going to be a free-for-all.”

With that challenge in mind, the 6A tournament could be scheduled for Saturday-Sunday instead of Friday-Saturday to avoid conflicting with Sandy's school day.

“That would allow us to at least get more people in,” Garrett said.

Alley, for one, is relishing the atmosphere of a capacity crowd.

“Wrestling or playing a guitar, it's much better to play in a packed house with 900 people, packed to the rafters, than having 2,000 people in a facility of 6,000,” Alley said. “That Coliseum is a big, old place. This will give it much more of a Hoosier, packed-house kind of feel.

“On the flip side, it is the state championship, it's our Super Bowl, and it should be in our biggest, grandest city and its grandest venue. So it's sad.”

Garrett said the larger question moving forward is if coaches will want to continue with separate state-championship venues. He said he believes some coaches would support the idea.

“Do you want to be together at a single site, and celebrate a community of wrestling, which I think is very popular with a lot of coaches and spectators?'” Garrett said. “Or do you want to separate those out into smaller venues, where you will be focused on more, but we can do less? In some cases, there's an opportunity to do things that are unique, as well.”

What about grouping two or more tournaments at a larger venue?

“Moving forward after this year, there could be other options, and you might be able to do some format like that,” Garrett said. “Not a lot of that was discussed.”

The OSAA cheer and dance/drill championships also will move from the Coliseum. Both will go to Oregon City High School, with cheer on Feb. 12 and dance/drill on March 18-19.