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Both Benjamin Russell and Wetumpka have both been hunting down state championships recently but their missions just got a lot tougher as Class 5A and 6A will now compete in one division together.

For the past few years, Class 5A teams and wrestlers have dominated the state wrestling championships in the 1A-5A division.

Just this year, 11 of the 14 weight classes were won by 5A wrestlers. One was won by 4A, two by 2A and none for the other two classes combined.

With the need for a competitive balance, the AHSAA knew something needed to be done. But what was rather unexpected was what was announced last week, which was there willl still be three divisions but Class 5A will now be combined with 6A.

“What I think they should’ve done is made (5A) a classification of its own,” Benjamin Russell coach Michael Ransaw said. “(Class) 6A is the toughest anyway and now what you just did is you brought a Tallassee, an Arab, a Southside up. You bring about six or eight really tough 5A schools and put them up there with an already tough 6A, and it becomes that much harder to win a state championship.”

In Alabama where football rules, it’s already tough for wrestling teams to grow and a lot of coaches seem worried the incredibly higher level of competition is going to make it that much tougher to get kids to want to compete.

“I believe you will find all (coaches) agree that what they did for 1A-4A could help grow the sport but I don’t think you correct a problem and make another one,” Tallassee coach John Mask said. “(Class) 5A and 6A is now going to be so competitive and so difficult for young men; I’m really concerned because it could cause wrestlers who were on the cusp to not want to wrestle.”

In the spirit of competitive balance anyway, it seems many Class 5A and 6A coaches agree this doesn’t do the job.

One option rather than combining 5A and 6A would’ve been to make Class 5A its own division, but according to AHSAA assistant director of communications Ron Ingram, that wasn’t possible.

“There are not enough teams in it to warrant one class (for just 5A),” Ingram said. “You have to have at least 40 to 45 teams to make a class, and we’re talking full teams. We have some that are wrestling two and three (individuals). (The ASHAA officials) considered a lot of things but what they decided to come up with is what they came up with.”

In order to be considered a full team in wrestling, a team must have eight weight classes filled. That’s what it would take for a team to be able to win a dual match.

According to Ingram, the wrestling coaches committee and the central board competition committee came together to form the decision. But when it comes down to purely just numbers, it seems like the competitive balance is also not achieved. Under the new divisions, there will be continue to be 26 teams in Class 7A with now 40 teams in 1A-4A and 72 teams in 5A-6A.

Another idea that was floated around — at least by area coaches — was taking all the competing wrestling teams in the state, dividing them by three by enrollment and doing three separate classifications.

“That would blur the lines,” Stanhope Elmore coach Hunter Adams said. “Some of the top tier 6A teams would bump up to a 7A break and some may bump down, but it would disperse the teams equally. … Both (that or four divisions) would’ve been better options. If being the best decision for the spirit of competitive balance is truly the objective, then I think both of those would’ve been better for the objective.”

Another big question for coaches was how the new divisions would affect postseason scenarios. As it stood this year, both 1A-5A and 6A sectionals qualified the top eight in each weight class to state to finish with a 16-man bracket. In 7A, only eight total qualified for state because there were so many fewer teams.

Schools have until May 1 to declare if they will field a wrestling team in 2020-21, so until then, a decision about postseason format likely cannot be finalized, according to Ingram. He also said Marvin Chou, who oversees wrestling for the AHSAA, is developing a format to present to the central board by the April meeting.

Coaches are hopeful the postseason numbers expand for 5A-6A but it is also possible the number of qualifiers for 1A-4A would simply decrease.

“I hate to see it because there might not be a chance for a kid on the fringe as a young wrestler as there were in the past,” Adams said. “It’s going to be tougher for guys like the first-year senior that won’t have the chance to make the state tournament that would have in years past. But it gives us something we have to climb to and work toward.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.