Starting in the 2014-15 season, there will be 13 weight classes in Montana High School Association sanctioned wrestling competition.
The change will come one year after MHSA member schools adopted the National Federation's weight classes with the exception of keeping the 98-pound class for a total of 15 weight divisions.
For much of the past year, coaches around the state said there were too many weight classes and it was hard to fill competitive dual lineups. The National Federation has 14 weight classes.
Veteran Billings Skyview coach Rich Malia said at the state tournament this past February that coaches visited about the existing weight-class divisions. A group of coaches then met in early March and discussed how they wanted to propose changes to the MHSA. A questionnaire was then sent out to high school coaches to get their feedback on weight-class changes and 92 percent of the coaches felt 15 was too many classes. In mid April, Malia and Chinook co-head coach Perry Miller met with the MHSA board and presented the coaches' case. The MHSA board sent out a survey to the schools who offered wrestling asking an administrator to talk to the wrestling coach and vote on the amended weight classes of 13.
When the schools returned their survey to the MHSA, 84 percent responded and 91 were in favor of the proposal to go to 13 weight classes. On May 15, the MHSA executive board took action to go from 15 to 13.
The new weight classes starting next season are: 103, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 205 and Hwt. (285).
Last year's weight classes were: 98, 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and Hwt. (285).
In short, 98 and 106 were combined into 103, and 195 and 220 were grouped into 205.
Miller is co-head coach of the Sugarbeeters with Adam Tilleman and has been with the program for 33 years.
"We will see an increase in the level of competition throughout the state," he said, adding competition for varsity spots in the wrestling room will increase and action will be more heavily contested at state and divisional tourneys. "We will see a lot more competition at the top and bottom end of the weight classes."
Miller said that for a school like Chinook, there are eight to 15 wrestlers on the whole team most seasons. However, with 13 weight classes the Sugarbeeters will be able to compete in a dual or dual tourney.
"The bottom line is we may have open weight classes, but can match them up and get a competitive dual," Miller said, adding there will be more excitement for everyone in the gym now when Chinook duals a team like Malta.
Another bonus with the changes is tournaments will move quicker Miller said.
Malia remembers when there were 12 weight classes. He said there is other reasoning behind having 13 weight classes.
"The reason we came up with 13 was we felt like the closer we could stay to the National Federation weight classes, the better chance we had to pass it," he said. "In part, we wrestle North Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho and they use the national weight classes."
"With 15 weight classes it is hard to fill 15," Malia added. "There were lots of byes at duals and it took away from duals at all three classes.
"The second reason is the quality of competition at the all-class state tournament. In years past with fewer weight classes, there would be four to six kids who had a shot at winning a particular weight class. When you provide more weight classes, it decreased the competitiveness of a weight class to where you only have sometimes one really quality kid and everyone else is fighting for second place. It will be more fan friendly and the weight classes are more competitive at the state tournament and it makes it more difficult to be a state placer."
Brian Michelotti, who has been the tourney director at nine state wrestling tournaments at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, said last year there were two open spots in Class AA at 98 pounds, six in A and five in B-C. At 106, there were two open spots in AA, five in A and two in B-C. At 220, there were three open slots in AA, one in A and zero in B-C. In AA, there were two openings at heavyweight.
"There is very good rationale at how they came up with the 13," Michelotti said. "Expect to see lots of good competition at the state tournament and divisional tournaments next year."
"The coaches have determined it. They are down in the trenches," said MHSA executive director Mark Beckman. "Looking at the weight classes and taking 98 and 106 and combining it to 103, there were problems in filling those weight classes and to eliminate some of the forfeitures is where they were looking at it and their administration agrees. We need to at least try this. The same thing with combining 195 and 220 to 205. They have done a lot of research."