Two months ago, Will Short was worried.
The highly successful head wrestling coach at Simley, where he also serves as athletic director, was convinced there wouldn't be a wrestling state tournament this year.Wrestling presented perhaps the most vexing challenge to the Minnesota State High School League's goal of holding state tournaments for winter sports this year.
Trying to reconcile the need to be safe and take the necessary COVID-19 precautions with a tournament that featured more than 650 wrestlers pursuing individual state titles — along with coaches, teammates, parents and fans — seemed more than daunting. It seemed impossible.
"Two months ago, things were in bad shape and it looked like we weren't going to have a tournament," Short said.
But on Feb. 4, league officials, after working for several weeks on the matter, unveiled winter state tournament plans that included an adjusted wrestling state tournament that will allow for playoff brackets for both teams and individuals in all three classes.
Short has been a fixture at the state meet for more than 30 years, back to his days as a two-time state champion in the late 1980s. He has coached the Class 2A, No. 1-ranked Spartans to 11 state championships. That he would feel the potential loss of the state tournament acutely also explains why Short was thrilled when the league made its plans known.
"I'm just happy we get to have a state tournament," he said. "It's extremely exciting, considering where we were, that the [MSHSL] is allowing us the opportunity to continue."
While the dates of the tournament and its basic framework are set, the league still has plenty of work to do to smooth out the details.
The state tournament, from March 25-27, will not be held at Xcel Energy Center, its traditional site. Each of the three classes could possibly hold its state tournament at different sites, said Wayzata coach Eric Swensen, president of the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association.
"Where is still to be determined," Swensen said. "We're not sure if it will be at one site over three days or at three different sites. Most likely, it will need a big field house."
The high school league has mandated a super-sectional format, bringing together two sections in geographic proximity to replace the traditional quarterfinals in both the team and individual tournaments. Those would produce a smaller field for the actual state tournaments: Four-team brackets for the team tournament, eight-wrestler brackets for individuals. Typically at the state tournament, each class has eight teams in the team bracket and 16 wrestlers in each weight class for individuals.
"None of this is set in stone," Swensen said. "We still have a month to figure out the logistics. And COVID is the ultimate deciding factor on what we have for a tournament."
For some fans and wrestlers, having a smaller-than-usual state tournament field may be a cause for consternation. For Short, those concerns are insignificant.
"You could look at it as some very good kids are not going to make it, but that happens every year," said Short, citing the inevitable section or two that is loaded with top talent. "Yes, you're going to have some heartbreaks and some kids who feel strongly it wasn't fair. But would you rather have the alternative and not have a chance at all?"
Swensen said he doesn't anticipate many complaints, as most parents have been understanding and willing to accept the changes for this year.
"I think people have gotten used to it," he said. "I can only speak to my [team's] parents, but I have not had one complaint. People have been so kind and cooperative with each other."
This all comes with the hope that all of these changes and adjustments are limited to this season only.
"Of course, we all want thing to go back to normal, but people have been fantastic in making the best of the situation," Swensen said. "We have to make sure we put the kids first and go from there."