Overview of high school preseason wrestling events

Scholastic wrestling is an ever-evolving beast. The in-season campaign has always started in November with the official beginning of preparatory practice, and ended with the state tournament in either late February or early March. Around just one generation ago, an offseason would consist of some local spring tournaments, maybe some open mats in the spring and summer, then maybe an out-of-town camp and/or national type tournament in the summer.

However, for better or worse, that ship has obviously left for sea -- and how. There are the national folkstyle tournaments in late March/early April, and then the summer brings about big national tournaments in both folkstyle and the Olympic styles. Even with the rising prevalence of Fargo, Junior/Cadet Duals, Disney Duals, and Junior Olympics -- the late summer and fall period was still mostly a "cool off period" for most wrestlers.

While a limited group would be year-round wrestling specialists, there seemed to be more wrestlers that involved themselves with a fall sport (football, soccer, cross-country, or whatever). However, in the last ten years there has been a significant shrinkage of that "cool off period" and a significant increase in "wrestling specialists". To be fair, this is not just a wrestling-related trend, as the trend within all of youth/scholastic sports is toward single sport specialization -- with successful participation in two sports somewhat of a minor miracle, and three-sport athletes turning into the dodo bird.

While the local -- creeping into regional -- prior to the preseason tournament was not a foreign language about ten years ago, certainly the "critical mass" of regional creeping into national events would fit as such. The rise and growth of the Super 32 Challenge from a local creeping into a regional event held at Morehead High School in North Carolina to a regional/national event now in its 10th year at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center would change the narrative. This event has maintained a late October date throughout its history.

Many of these regional/national events occupy a spot on the wrestling calendar at present. They vary in terms of the extent to which it is a regional event as opposed to a national event. The talent quality within each of these fields will vary as well. Furthermore, the preseason calendar has crept into the earlier fall period.

The following is an inventory of such events.

Sunday, September 21: Iron Horse Invitational (South Plainfield, New Jersey)

The event is about a decade old, and employs a round-robin format. Wrestlers are invited and/or accepted into the event based on the combination of past production and future potential. Weight classes are relatively arbitrary, with wrestlers grouped together more on ability and/or matchup interest in mind. Competition entails round-robins of four-to-five wrestlers (last year there were just over 25 groups contested). The field is primarily made up of New Jersey wrestlers, with other wrestlers mostly coming from New York, Pennsylvania, or other parts of the east coast. Wrestle in My Shoes is the non-profit sponsoring partner for the event.

Sunday, October 5: Journeymen Classic (Niskayuna, New York)

This event pretty much replicates the Iron Horse Invitational in terms of format and structure. In its fourth year, the tournament will again reach its just over 200 person capacity, and include wrestlers from between 25-to-30 states. The core of the field will come from New York State, along with the surrounding Northeast and Mid-Atlantic locales (additional top wrestlers are expected to attend from outside the core area). Per the tournament flyer, the event is targeting about 15 round-robin competitions to entail elite level competitors across the board; while the other half to two-thirds of the field will vary in terms of competition.

Sunday, October 12: Conflict at Carver (Iowa City, Iowa)

Last year the Hawkeye Wrestling Club decided to enter the preseason tournament business, with this event, as they would open up the opportunity to wrestle on the Carver-Hawkeye Arena floor to all. The initial edition of the event was a relatively local one, with the core of the field coming from Iowa, and the rest filling in from surrounding states. While one would expect the event to grow in its second year, and the second year tends to be better than the first year, the first year returns for this event showed a relatively small and weak field -- given the context of these events.

Saturday, October 18: Who's Number One, presented by Flowrestling (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania)

Last year Flowrestling presented the inaugural edition of this invitational event with the intent of being an all-grade Dapper Dan of sorts in the preseason. In addition, they also had a matchup of two post-collegiate athletes to create further attention (in 2013 it was Bubba Jenkins vs. Jordan Oliver). The event is back this year on the campus of Lehigh University, and will employ a similar format -- star matchups across the weight spectrum of highly ranked high school wrestlers with a featured bout.

Saturday, October 18: Grappler Fall Classic (Grand Rapids, Michigan)

In its fifth year, this event has youth and junior high divisions in addition to the high school competition. College rules are in effect for this event as well. The field is primarily wrestlers from Michigan, with competitors from surrounding states filling out the field, along with isolated wrestlers from other parts of the country.

Saturday, October 18: Blue Chip Fall Brawl (Kansas City, Missouri)

This event is among the older tournaments of the regional type. Now held at Staley High School in suburban Kansas City, the tournament features wrestlers from Missouri, Kansas, and other neighboring states. The featured match of last year's tournament was one in the final at 182 pound between Bo Nickal and Michael Pixley, both wrestlers having won Junior National freestyle titles in the summer of 2013.

Saturday, October 25 (and Sunday, October 26): Preseason Nationals (Cedar Falls, Iowa)

In the mold of the Super 32 Challenge, this is a national event, though the core of the field is from the middle third of the country; as opposed to the Super 32, whose core participants are from the eastern third of the country. High school boys' competition will be on Saturday; while the middle school and elementary school boys along with the high school girls event will be held on Sunday. Both the grade-school and high school events sold out last year, and capacity for each event has increased slightly to 1,500 this year (high school girls capacity at 200).

Friday, October 31 through Sunday, November 2: Southwest Kickoff Classic (Las Vegas, Nevada)

Similar to the Preseason Nationals and Super 32 Challenge, this is a relatively national event, though the core of the field is from the western third of the country. The event features a high school elite and high school varsity division, along with multiple age divisions for junior high and elementary wrestlers.

Saturday, November 1 and Sunday, November 2: Super 32 Challenge presented by Flips Wrestling (Greensboro, North Carolina)

The Super 32 Challenge is held in Greensboro, N.C.
The elite event, with the deepest and most diverse field, of the preseason tournament circuit is this one in its 16th year overall, and 10th in the Greensboro Coliseum Special Event Center. Last year's field featured close to 90 wrestlers that earned weight class rankings at the end of the 2013-14 season; while just over 20 percent of the 1,250 tournament participants won a state, New England regional, or National Prep title. In addition the high school tournament, there is also a middle school tournament, which will feature many of the nation's top junior high prospects; an elementary school tournament with two divisions has also been added for the first time this year (both the middle school and elementary school events sold out in about 48 hours). Flips Wrestling was added as the event's title sponsor this year.

Sunday, November 9: InterMat JJ Classic (Rochester, Minnesota)

This event is among the newer preseason tournaments in its fifth year. The event is held at the UCR Regional Sports Center in Rochester, Minnesota, and is open to wrestlers in grades 7 through 12. The tournament is held in memory of Justin "JJ" Kukowski, and proceeds of the event go toward the fight against cancer. The field primarily features wrestlers from the Midwest, along with a smattering of competitors from across the country. Registration for this year's event opens on September 15.


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