Starting next season, there will be new weight classes in Montana high school wrestling
At last Monday's Montana High School Association annual meeting in Missoula, membership approved changing the state's weight classes to the National Federation's with the addition of the 98-pound class. Thus, there will still be 15 weight classes in the Treasure State.
The state's weight classes next season will be 98, 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285 (heavyweight).
The previous classes, still in use this season, are 98, 105, 112, 119, 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 152, 160, 171, 189, 215 and 285 (heavyweight).
Brian Michelotti of the MHSA is the tournament manager of the state wrestling tournament and this year's tourney will be his ninth in that role.
"There was a proposal from Baker to go to straight across the board National Federation weight classes," he said. "When the proposal hit the floor Monday, it was amended to add the 98-pound weight class and then go to the national weight classes. Starting next year we will still have 15 weight classes, starting with 98."
Michelotti said most other states have 14 weight classes because they start at 106 pounds. However, he said membership expressed reasons for the amendments.
"There is always a big push for that smaller kid," he said. "A lot of our administrators want to see 15 weight classes for more participation in wrestling and felt that 106 pounds, which is the national (first weight), was too big of a jump from 98."
While the move is looked at by some as a step in the right direction, some coaches would like to see Montana go back to 14, and maybe 13, weight classes. There is also discussion of what the weight classes should be.
At the Class AA Duals in Great Falls earlier this month, Billings Skyview coach Rich Malia and Billings West coach Jeremy Hernandez said the AA coaches voted to propose weight classes they felt were the best option. Hernandez said they were 101, 108, 115, 122, 129, 135, 140, 145, 152, 160, 171, 189, 215 and heavyweight for a total of 14 divisions.
Malia and Hernandez each expressed some disappointment in the new weight classes -- saying they would like to have at least one fewer weight class, with reasons such as better dual lineups and the ability to fill a lineup.
"I foresee it changing pretty quick. I don't think these weight classes will last," said Malia, noting that on his travels to out-of-state tourneys he's visited with various coaches about the national weights. "If you look at a bell-shaped curve, the least amount of participants nationwide are at the two lowest weights and two highest weights. The most popular and largest number of kids are between 125 and 152 pounds.
"What the coaches around the country are unhappy with in the new weight classes is with the five most popular weight classes ... what the nationals did is take the middle one out at 140 and added it at the end, where the least participants are."
"It is very common to have a forfeit at 98 and that is true at the Mining City Duals. We wrestled Belgrade Friday and they forfeited at 98, 105 and 112. ... we are a bigger school, we get bigger numbers and we have those weights, but it is tough to do. We felt why don't we just combine 98 and 105?"
"I don't really like them. When we were weighing in today in Butte (at duals Saturday) you have the thick of the kids in the middle weight classes and when the heavyweights started weighing in there weren't a lot of kids in those weight classes," he said. "Now we have another up top and the consensus will be there are a lot of forfeits, because there are too many weight classes.
"There should be 13 or 14 weight classes. Thirteen would be great, it would toughen up the competition and not water everything down. There are too many weight classes and too many forfeits."
Scott Weber, coach of the two-time defending Class B-C champion Forsyth team, said now that the new weight classes have been voted in, it's time for each team to make the best of it. Weber, who's in his 11th season at Forsyth, believes that some administrators voted for the weights for the sole purpose of alignment with the National Federation, although he notes there are still other rules the MHSA is not in compliance with nationally, and didn't look at the big picture.
Weber would also like to see fewer weight classes, perhaps 13. For starters, he said to eliminate byes during the regular season and postseason, 98 and 105 could have been combined to 103 pounds. Weber would also like the four upper weight limits to be left at the current weights of 171, 189, 215 and 285, saying the competition is "already watered down at the top from 189 to heavyweight. Now they are going to add one more weight class up top and it didn't help us."
Weber said Class B-C teams will not get more participants out for wrestling or have more eligible for the postseason with the changes, noting he would have rather kept this year's weight divisions next season.
Sidney coach Guy Melby, who's in his 27th season with the Eagles, agrees that Montana wrestling should offer fewer weight classes, saying wrestling programs need to fill a 15-member varsity lineup, while football teams normally fill only 11 starting slots and basketball five. However, the problem lies with getting a majority of the state's decision-makers to agree on how many weight classes to offer and what they should be.
"I kind of like the idea of being with the rest of the nation. I don't know how many states had the old weight classes. We go across the border quite a bit, so sometimes it is tough for us to move into those weights," he said. "To me, it really didn't matter. But, I am a firm believer that we have too many weight classes, but none of those proposals were put forth towards that.
"I like that they were looking out for the little guy. We've had some awfully tough 98-pounders in the past. I'm not sure we'll have that next year. But if you take away 98 and jump all the way to 106, that is huge. That's a big jump."
Melby agreed finding enough big men to fill a competitive lineup will be a challenge, but he said now that the rules are in place, the Eagles will do just that.
The veteran coach added that the National Federation weight limits could also change in the future, but stressed coaches and administrators need to realize "the deal is it has to be what is good with wrestling, it can't be what is good for your team coming down the road. It has to be what is good for Montana wrestling. You have to do what is best with the sport."