One of the biggest goals of the AHSAA has always been to grow high school sports throughout the state. And with every seemingly tough decision usually comes a silver lining.
That’s certainly the case for the new alignment of wrestling in the state. It was announced last week the AHSAA would be moving Class 5A into a division with 6A for the next two-year cycle, beginning in the 2020-21 season.
While coaches of bigger schools were frustrated and confused by the move, the ultimate goal, according to AHSAA assistant director of communications Ron Ingram, was to have a more competitive balance for the smaller schools. Class 1A-4A will now be on its own.
“All our sports are constantly being evaluated in an effort to provide a fair playing field for all concerned and to spark growth of a sport among all schools possible,” Ingram said.
With Class 5A being so dominant the past few years — especially at the state level — the move definitely seems encouraging for 1A-4A teams.
“It gives us a chance to be more competitive,” Reeltown coach Drew MacKay said. “(Class) 5A teams have dominated the classification for the past three years that we have been wrestling, so it might give us a chance to be more competitive as opposed to facing countless 5A teams and not be able to do as well as we would’ve liked.”
Reeltown is the most recent wrestling program to begin in the area. It started just three years ago and has never fielded a full 14-weight class team. Because of the sheer numbers at Reeltown — although the Rebels are moving to Class 3A next year — it just doesn’t have the same amount of kids to choose from as schools like Tallassee, Arab and Gardendale, which have traditionally been strong programs.
“The biggest thing (the AHSAA) looked at was 1A-4A schools were out of their league,” Ingram said. “(Class 5A) teams have full teams and their schools are just bigger. For instance, Ranburne wrestled Arab in the duals championship and Ranburne had seventh- and eighth-graders wrestling at 106 and 113 (pounds), but I can almost guarantee Arab’s wrestlers were seniors.”
The numbers don’t seem to add up though. Classes 1A-4A and 7A will now have a fewer number of teams combined than Class 5A-6A, but Ingram was quick to point out it’s for only a two-year cycle then it’ll be reevaluated as always.
And while there are certainly benefits, it’s going to be extremely tough on programs like Elmore County and Holtville, which are both jumping from 4A to 5A this year.
“Essentially, (in wrestling), we are moving from 4A to 6A literally,” ECHS coach Jared Jones said. “I’m not for it. It helps 1A-4A but combining the two largest classes, that doesn’t create growth. That’s just one opinion though.”
But Jones has been in the business a long time and knows the benefits for smaller schools, even if it doesn’t benefit his team this time around.
“I think for example, Reeltown started a program a couple years ago and having them compete against the likes of Arab and Gardendale and some of the larger 5As, there’s not a chance that they would have very many qualifiers,” Jones said. “Now there’s a lot bigger chance for a team like Reeltown to have more participants at the state tournament and that helps.
“The main growth, I think, is going to be in 3A and 4A. In 1A and 2A, if you get 12 kids playing basketball out of classes of 30 (students), it’s still just always going to be tough for wrestling.”
Although the benefits are numerous for smaller schools, coaches of bigger teams are hopeful Ingram’s prediction about reevaluation will come to fruition. And many know the AHSAA, ultimately, has the right intentions.
“The sport has grown and I believe the AHSAA has taken very good steps to assure growth,” Tallassee coach John Mask said. “This is going to be a good thing for smaller schools and it’s going to help the sport grow, but I hope with two more years, they’ll have four (divisions with 5A being on its own) and we’ll all be happy.”