BILLINGS — As far as scheduling and the format, the state wrestling tournament at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark on Friday and Saturday will look much the same as past years.
The 31st Annual All-Class State Wrestling Tournament will begin at 10:20 a.m. on Friday with the first-round matches. At approximately 5 p.m., the second-round consolation matches are scheduled to start and those bouts will conclude the day.
Action will begin on Saturday with the semifinals and consolation quarterfinals at 9:30 a.m., and the championship finals are set to begin at 3:15 p.m.
While this year’s schedule will remain the same, next year promises some changes with the addition of girls wrestling as a sanctioned Montana High School Association sport. At the MHSA annual meeting in January at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center, it was decided schools will be able to add girls wrestling and boys powerlifting for the 2020-21 school year.
“Our schedule is pretty much the same this year,” said Brian Michelotti, the MHSA associate director and state wrestling tournament manager. “We will have some changes next year with girls wrestling coming into place. This year it will be as it has been in the past.”
According to MHSA executive director Mark Beckman, 13 states currently sanction girls wrestling. Montana will join Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington in sanctioning girls wrestling.
And don’t be surprised if other states add girls wrestling in the future.
“There would probably be a few more I’d imagine,” Beckman said. “There seems to be more interest from throughout the country.”
Missouri is in the midst of a two-year implementation period, according to the wrestling manual found on the Missouri State High School Activities Association website.
Beginning next year there will be a girls-only state tourney offered at the two-day state wrestling tournament at Metra.
The boys and girls seasons will both begin on the same day next year. Much like prior years, the girls who participate will compete against girls and boys in the regular season.
However, the difference will be when the postseason rolls around. Girls who wrestle in the regular season will all qualify for an all-female wrestling state tournament held during the all-class event at the Metra. There will not be divisionals for girls wrestling.
At the state tournament, the girls will only be matched with other girls. Michelotti said there will be a single classification for girls wrestling and individual state titles and placers will be awarded. Michelotti anticipates six state placers per weight class, but that will depend on how many girls are entered in the bracket.
For team scores, up to two girls per weight class would score.
The seven weight classes for girls wrestling are 103, 113, 126, 138, 152, 170 and 205 pounds. This year, there are 75 girls participating in wrestling.
Michelotti said there could be an increase in the number of girls wrestling next year with the sanctioning of girls wrestling. Those weight classes could change based on participation numbers after the weight certification process for individual wrestlers is complete. In Missouri, weight classes for girls wrestling are determined based on weight assessments completed.
“When weight classes are set, they’ll be based on the total girls wrestling that year,” Michelotti said. “What we do is we certify all wrestlers right before Christmas.
“We may adjust those up or down or add depending on the number of wrestlers, or maybe we take away based on the number of qualifiers. We don’t know quite yet.”
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For the first two years as the sport grows, girls will still wrestle against boys during the regular season. After two years, the rules will be reviewed and depending on growth, and other factors such as the geographic concentration of wrestlers, there could be a rules change to where girls only wrestle girls in the regular season as well as the postseason.
But, again, that has not been decided.
“We want to make sure we have enough girls wrestlers so that somebody up in Poplar wouldn’t have anybody to wrestle if there isn’t anybody in their division,” Beckman said. “We want to see how it builds in those two years.”
Depending on growth, there could also be girls divisionals added in the future, Beckman said.
Michelotti said don’t be surprised if eventually there are also girls-only regular season tournaments in Montana.
“As other states have grown with their numbers, there are some girls-only tournaments,” he said. “That will happen in Montana as the sport grows in numbers.”
Due to unique circumstances, the states that offer girls wrestling have all “implemented it a little differently,” Michelotti said.
At the state tournament, 12 mats are currently used with four mats designated per class. There is not enough floor space at the Metra to add mats.
“We have some ideas of what we will do,” said Michelotti, explaining that many questions, including this one, will better be answered when there is an idea of how many girls are wrestling next year. “We have enough time in the day, we would possibly designate a couple mats to wrestle the girls championships.”
“We have already looked at scheduling mats for the girls. It will be pretty much the same, maybe a little longer in some sessions, but it shouldn’t be too much different,” Beckman added.
The reaction to sanctioning girls wrestling has been positive locally and nationally, Michelotti said.
“We have gotten a tremendous amount of feedback that it is exciting that Montana is adding girls wrestling,” Michelotti said.
Some of the feedback has indicated there will be more girls wrestling next year.
“We have had comments made that there will be more girls wrestling because they will be wrestling girls only in the postseason,” Beckman said.
“We expect our numbers to grow significantly,” Michelotti added.
Michelotti said overall, “it’s an exciting time for the sport” of wrestling.
While much of the direction of the sport will depend on participation numbers, those involved are looking forward to the process.
“There are a lot of good ideas out there,” Michelotti said. “We are anxious to implement it. We want to see our participation numbers grow.
“There are a lot of things that need to come together on this. We’ll work hard on it to make sure it’s fair and safe, and a good opportunity for everybody.”
Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL