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New Jersey high school tournament expansion clears first hurdle

It's an extreme makeover designed to give more New Jersey high school wrestlers greater opportunities to win titles.

On Wednesday the Executive Committee of the NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association) approved three proposals that will realign districts and regions for greater equity, increase the number of qualifiers to the individual state championships, and expand the number of teams that qualify for the team championships.

New Jersey's state high school wrestling tournament
The vote to realign the districts and regions passed by a 21-6 vote. The other two proposals were each approved by a unanimous vote.

"This is my 42nd year in athletic administration," said NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko. "I don't think I've ever been in a committee before that unanimously approved a specific recommendation.

"This committee did."

All three proposals will need to be officially approved by the Executive Committee on Oct. 19, which Timko pretty much expects to be a done deal.

District/region realignment

Under the proposed realignment, the NJSIAA sought to balance districts and regions both in terms of number of teams and strength of programs.

To that end, teams will be placed into eight regions based on geography. A total of 321 schools have wrestling teams -- 281 public schools and 30 non-public schools.

To even out the strength of the regions, the NJSIAA determined each team's power-point average over the last five years to identify the top 32 programs in the state. An effort then was made to balance those "power" programs among regions, with no region having more than five or fewer than three of the power schools.

Once the regions were determined, efforts were made to even out the strengths of each district as well, according to Timko.

Timko said there has been a long-time push for realignment among coaches and others in wrestling.

"For the 16 years I've been here, I've been hearing concerns about districts and regions," Timko said.

Last December, the NJSIAA Executive Committee voted for separate post-season competitions for parochial and public schools in wrestling and football ... a decision vetoed by the state's commissioner of education, David C. Hespe. That episode gave greater impetus for the NJSIAA's proposed realignment approved Wednesday.

More qualifiers for state individual tournament

In a proposal approved unanimously by the Executive Committee, there will now be a new methodology for determining which individual wrestlers will compete at the state individual championships. Now the number of wrestlers going to Atlantic City from the eight region tournaments will grow from three per weight to four.

The expansion to four qualifiers per region for each weight for the individual championships would result in 448 wrestlers or 32 per weight, instead of 336 wrestlers or 24 per weight that has been in place for many years, when only the top three finishers from each region qualified.
With an increased number of wrestlers competing at Boardwalk Hall during the individual state championships, there would be an increased number of matches, necessitating another full round for both the main and wrestleback portions of the tournament.

If the Executive Committee gives its final blessing to this proposal in October, Timko said he will hold discussions with officials at the iconic Atlantic City venue about starting the first day of competition two hours earlier.

More qualifiers for state team tournament

The third proposal -- also approved by unanimous vote -- would increase the number of teams that qualified in each of the 24 sections to the state team tournament to eight.

This would mean 192 teams will be eligible to participate in the team tournament, instead of 144 teams -- or six per section -- as has been the case in recent years.

The new proposal will eliminate byes within the brackets.

After the Executive Committee's approval of the three proposals that could substantially change the post-season for New Jersey wrestlers, their coaches and teams, Timko said, "I think, without hesitation, this is progress for wrestling."

The changes, if approved in October, will go into effect this season, which begins in early December.

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