Thursday, February 19, 2009

Atlanta Takedown Association makes state traditional wrestling tournament a success

Call it February Madness.

Last Sunday, volunteers from the AtlantaTakedown Association concocted five brackets—one for each classification—for Georgia’s Traditional State Wrestling Tournament, which runs this weekend at Gwinnett Arena. Unlike in any other high school sport in Georgia, wrestling uses a committee to come up with its playoff brackets. It’s as similar to the NCAA Tournament’s selection Sunday as a seeding process in the Georgia High School Association can get … but at the same time, it is much different. Yes, there is often chaos, controversy and tireless hours of work, but the ATA’s bracketing meeting relies solely on a formula rather than the opinion of certain committee members.

Of course, that does not mean the ATA’s method is problem free. It never has been and probably never will be. ATA First Vice President and tournament director Bud Hennebaul admits as much.

“There are flaws in every system,” Hennebaul said. “It will never be perfect.”

Every year, however, the seeding process is tweaked as necessary and this time around Hennebaul is confident the ATA has produced its best—and most fair—brackets ever.

“There’s no seeding that goes into it,” he explained. “There’s not enough head-to-head competition. It’s too difficult to compare kids from different parts of the state. So it’s done strictly by formulas, and we will use one of three for the state tournament bracket.”

Hennebaul hopes the result will be a 2009 tournament in which the best wrestlers are correctly positioned within their respective brackets. In past years, that has not always been the case.

“Two of the best kids could wrestle in the same sectional,” he recalled. “We could see the two best wrestlers go head-to-head in the quarterfinals.”

With the ATA using a formula that seeds wrestlers based on the results from eight area tournaments that took place around the state earlier this month, Hennebaul insists that similar problems will be mostly avoided in this year’s tournament.

“It’s kind of secret who came up with the formulas,” he added, “but we should have the best kids wrestling in the finals.”

Restricting all coaches from attending Sunday’s bracketing meeting should also make the process more effective and much more efficient. According to Hennebaul, coaches have technically never been allowed to attend the meeting, but more than a few have nonetheless found their way into the room on previous occasions.

“We had to start over three times last year,” Hennebaul said, adding that the ATA’s goal was to “keep the coaches away until we [were] done.”

That will leave the manual labor at the hopefully controversy-free bracketing meeting to the ATA volunteers, led by ATA president Gary Schaefer. As long as everything goes according to plan, however, they aren’t working frantically until 6 p.m. like the NCAA Tournament Committee so famously does every year.

“The whole thing shouldn’t take more than two to three hours,” Schaefer explained. “We have different groups of volunteers working on all the different classifications.”

It’s also a lot easier when committee members are simply processing results and filling in names accordingly, a far cry from whatever goes on during the March Madness meeting.

“Everything is in writing,” Schaefer added. “There’s no discussion. We’ve got the formula. They fax or e-mail the winners to us on Sunday morning and we just fill in the bracket.”

Sounds pretty simple to get the field set for what has become the largest wrestling tournament in the country, right? Well, maybe, but a lot more than merely making the brackets goes into putting on the whole show.

“Bud and I start working on the next year’s tournament in March or April,” Schaefer said. “We have to line up mats, line up motels, food, drinks, clocks, heaters, doctors, scoring tables. … There are a lot of little things here and there.”

Thanks to the hard work of Hennebaul, Foster and the rest of the ATA, Georgia’s Traditional State Wrestling Tournament becomes more and more friendly to fans, volunteers, coaches and officials every year. Most importantly, however, the hours of work and tweaking of formulas are done for the benefit of the participants themselves.

“It’s all about the kids,” Hennebaul concluded. “Our goal is to make the whole tournament experience better for them.”

Consider it done. Now, let the madness on the mats begin!

Dimon can be reached at