Gwinnett Daily Post staff writer Brandon Brigman caught up with Gary Phillips on day two of the traditional state wrestling tournament at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Thursday. Phillips is the assistant executive director for the Georgia High School Association and has been in charge of wrestling for the last seven years. Phillips also oversees cross country, track and field and golf.
BB: Has the traditional tournament and the dual tournament early this decade helped the sport of wrestling in Georgia?
GP: Yeah, I think so. Putting them together, all of the classifications together, has probably done as much as anything. The advent of the dual tournament seven years ago kind of raised the bar. When we got to consolidating all of the classifications for the duals and here I think it raised the public perspective and recognition of wrestling.
BB: This is the third year of the tournament here. As long as the Gwinnett Arena wants it back and the ATA guys are willing to put in the work, can we expect this to be a yearly tradition?
GP: Yes, that's our long-range plan. We want to do some things to modify the tournament a little bit and maybe for a better term have a pre-state or a sub-state and kind of whittle down the number of kids that are here. That's all in the planning stages right now. We're looking at that and how can we do this a little differently and continue here with the very best wrestlers and help our cost containment.
BB: You answered part of my next question. I've heard of the tournament going from a 32-man bracket to 16 in Class AAA to AAAAA.
GP: Primarily that's the plan. Three classifications have 32-man brackets - AAA, AAAA and AAAAA - and AA is already a 16-man bracket and A in recent years has only been eight. The idea is to get everyone to a 16-man bracket, plus Class A and then that would expedite (the tournament) a little bit. We're concerned with being out of school, travel, those types of things. We feel like if we can interject an intermediate round that's still part of the state tournament, it's just off site and then they get here for 16 qualifiers and then go to the championship.
BB: Class AAA through AAAAA, they have to go through a 32-man bracket and the A and AA don't have to. Could we maybe combine A and AA like we do in volleyball and soccer?
GP: We've been down that road before and the coaches don't like that. They like the five classifications. They don't like the idea of combining. Historically, that has not happened, so it would be much harder to go back now. Although, that's not out of the realm of possibilities.
BB: I've heard some coaches talk about they would like to see this tournament seeded. How come it hasn't been seeded in the past and could we seed it in the future?
GP: Historically, we don't seed anything in the GHSA. We have an established rotation that we use in all the other sports. This tournament and what we did is reconstruct the pairings two years ago and now it's a blind draw for which weight class and what pair you're in. Before I got here it was an established rotation and coaches had it figured out what rotation they were in. We took all that out and reconstructed the pairs and now we'll just draw blindly. So you'll have situations we're you'll have good kids meet early, but you'll have other situations where some wrestlers in that bracket are not good. You'll have that odd setting where guys will meet in the semis and by reputation or whatever should meet in the finals. One of the issues about seeding is do you seed all 16, do you seed eight? The way the season goes now we go straight from the area to the state and there's no time. You're talking about five different seed meetings and when do you get that done?
So there's a lot of logistics issues there.
BB: One thing the GHSA is doing this year is streaming finals on www.GHSA.net. Tell me how you guys came up with that.
GP: We video streamed volleyball earlier this year and swimming. This was just kind of another thing we added on. We've got some ideas about trying to show, if it's a smaller tournament, the whole tournament down the road and maybe even get the finals on television. More of in the area of a live broadcast rather than highlights and stuff that we've done in the past.
BB: It seems like every year people talk about wanting to see one state champion per weight class instead of five. Any chance of ever doing that?
GP: I doubt it. Because what we would have to do in that realm, there are states that do that, you'd have to refocus wrestling. A lot of people talk about after this tournament, why don't we take the five state champions plus the three other kids and have an eight-man tournament. That's basically an all-star tournament to GHSA. We don't have anything to do with all star games like in football, basketball and baseball. It's all handled by the Georgia Coaches Association. We don't sponsor all star games, so in that realm we would not go there.
BB: If someone like ATA wanted to put on an all-star tournament after this, could they?
GP: Yes they could. We've radically changed the rules for participation. The only limitation in our rules is it would have to be seniors only. You couldn't have underclassmen in an all-star game, that would violate our rules. If you find some way to find the eight best kids and have an all-star tournament, we say have to it. More power to you.