Seven years ago Bud Hennebaul had the idea to bring all five classifications to one location for the state wrestling tournament.
The idea came to fruition in February of 2006 when the Arena at Gwinnett Center hosted the Georgia High School Association's traditional state wrestling tournament.
The Arena will be the site of the tournament for the seventh year this weekend. But once the final arm is raised on Saturday, it could be the last time the tournament is held at the venue.
IF YOU GO
What: Traditional state wrestling tournament
Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center
-- Thursday, 5 p.m.
-- Friday, 8:30 a.m.
-- Saturday, 9:30 a.m., finals at 4 p.m.
Read Sports Editor Will Hammock's take on the issue in his latest column, HERE.
Here's a yearly look at the paid attendance for the high school basketball Final Four and state wrestling tournament. These numbers do not include coaching passes, comps, etc.
Wrestling (total for three days at Gwinnett Arena)
2004: Class AAAA Semis (2,191) Class AAAAA Semis (4,467) Finals (8,994)
2005: Class AAAA Semis (3,025) Class AAAAA Semis (5,647) Finals (9,077)
2006: Class AAAA Semis (3,197) Class AAAAA Semis (5,188) Finals (9,497)
2007: Class AAAA Semis (2,648) Class AAAAA Semis (7,124) Finals (11,831)
2008: Class AAAA Semis (2,814) Class AAAAA Semis (5,372) Finals (8,891)
2009: Class AAAA Semis (2,314) Class AAAAA Semis (4,106) Finals (7,749)
2010: Class AAAA Semis (2,408) Class AAAAA Semis (5,505) Finals (8,283)
2011: Class AAAA Semis (2,762) Class AAAAA Semis (3,380) Finals (7,273)
Due to a scheduling conflict, the state tournament may have to find a new location next season.
"Georgia wrestlers feel like it's their arena after six years," said Hennebaul, who is the director for the state tournament. "They have that ingrained in them to come down the arena stairs with the lights on them."
The tournament's typical date of the third weekend in February has already been booked by the Arena for 2013 when it will host the circus on Feb. 16 and 23.
"To my knowledge, we've had them here for several years, but there's a date conflict," said Joey Dennis, the General Manger for the Gwinnett Center. "Basically, the issue is there are only so many dates. We are maxed out for that part. The GHSA is fixed on those dates and we understand that."
The Arena is also the home of the Gwinnett Gladiators, a minor league hockey team. The Gladiators have submitted home dates for the Arena, including the weekend prior to the circus coming to town on Feb. 9, leaving the wrestling tournament with few options.
"We don't really have a definite answer at this point," GHSA Assistant Executive Director Gary Phillips said. "We have a very small window that could work to our advantage depending on the hockey team and the hockey league."
The Gladiators have submitted their dates for the 2012-13 season, but next season's schedule won't be released until April.
"Everything is really by chance right now," Phillips said.
According to Phillips, the Arena has given the alternative to have the tournament Monday through Wednesday or Tuesday through Thursday.
"We just can't do that because of kids out of school for three solid days," Phillips said. "That's not a good decision by the GHSA."
The high school basketball Final Four has been hosted by the Arena since 2004 and will not be back next year due to the SEC women's basketball tournament.
"I know this, we have worked hard to try to accommodate everyone," Dennis said. "The good Lord only makes so many weekends. It's sort of first come, first served. We try to accommodate everyone from year to year."
Another possibility for the wrestling tournament is to start the season a week earlier than previous years to allow the state tournament to finish the first weekend in February. However, that would cause the season to overlap with fall sports like football. The same problem would happen with starting the season late and having the tournament the first weekend in March where it would overlap with spring sports.
"I definitely think it hurts wrestling," Phillips said. "When I first took this job everyone said wrestling got pushed to the corner. We got a lot of recognition nationally for having the tournament in one site. The tournament is much better now than it was early on."
When the tournament began in 2006, it was the largest wrestling tournament in the country in terms of participants with 1,456 wrestlers.
"We have people come from other states that want to watch it, to see how it's done," Hennebaul said. "We're known nationally. I just hope we can work it out."
The tournament reached its peak of 11,956 paid attendance in 2008 and has drawn more than 9,000 fans the last five years.
"It's something special, especially after having it there for a few years," Collins Hill coach Josh Stephen said. "That's what we're used to. That's all these kids know. It would be sad to see it go. I know they are working hard to make it work."
The tournament has also had a positive impact on the local economy. Nearby restaurants, hotels, and stores benefit from the thousands of people converged on Sugarloaf Parkway that third weekend in February.
"We do a lot of business off them. We love to see them every year, we have a great rapport with them," said Mike Hume, the manager at Arena Tavern. "When you have something like that, we have people coming in all day for three days, it's not like that with a concert where people are rushing in at one time."
"Any kind of event helps our occupancy. If there is fear of them not coming back, absolutely it does hurt," said Tanveer Dogar, the manager at Hilton Garden Inn by the Gwinnett Arena. "But if there are other events going on that weekend, then it's not a problem."
Prior to 2006, each classification held its own state championship at separate venues across the state. For fans of wrestling, it made it difficult to see the state's best wrestlers together at one time. It also made it a challenge for college coaches to recruit Georgia wrestlers. It's no coincidence that the boon of Georgia wrestlers signing with colleges coincided with the state tournament's move to Gwinnett.
"It's awesome being around all the other programs," Stephen, the Collins Hill coach, said. "State duals is only certain teams. This has a little bit from everybody. The thought of losing that and going back to a high school, it would be sad to see that happen."
After the state tournament this weekend, the GHSA plans to explore other options if it is unable to book the Arena next season.
Some of the other possible venues and cities include Phillips Arena in Atlanta, University of West Georgia, Perry, Macon Centreplex, Dalton and Columbus. However, hotels, restaurants, parking, volunteers and configuration of the mats in the venue will all play a factor in finding a new location.
"For what that does for Georgia wrestling, the efforts that many people put in to make it a big thing at the Arena, it would be a shame to see it go," Stephen said. "I'm hoping the GHSA is thinking about that when they are making the decision for wrestling."
Another hurdle to get past is the GHSA's move from five classifications to six next season and the addition of a private school league. That will create more problems for not only wrestling, but other one venue sports like cross country and track and field.
For Hennebaul it's made this weekend's tournament bittersweet. The diehard wrestling fan has worked tirelessly the last seven years to have a top-notch tournament at the Arena. This weekend it could come to an end.
"I kind of feel like I'm going through a divorce," Hennebaul said. "Right now we need counseling."