Last weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the Northwest AAA Regional Wrestling Tournament, and Tom Elling's 25th year as the tournament's director.
If Elling has his druthers, the tournament will continue to be held at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse, where it has been staged for most of the past three decades, as well as continuously since the mid-1990s.
There's been a recent push by the PIAA Board of Directors, however, that would involve eliminating the Northwest AAA Regional in the perceived interests of greater parity. If that change comes to pass, the current District 8, 9 and 10 teams that compete in the regional would wrestle in the Southwest AAA [WPIAL District 7] Regional, and District 6 teams would compete in the District 3 [Southcentral] Regional.
Another proposal, which Elling is in favor of, would be for the four Class AAA wrestling teams in District 4 - Jersey Shore, Shikellamy, Williamsport and Selinsgrove - to move into the Northwest Regional, and keep it going in Altoona. Those four District 4 wrestling schools currently compete in the Northeast Regional, and they have all expressed an interest in moving to the Northwest Regional.
The second idea is gaining steam, so much so that it recently passed a first reading in front of the PIAA Board. The inclusion of District 4 teams at the Northwest Regional must now pass two more subsequent readings in front of the PIAA Board in order to be adopted into the PIAA's bylaws.
"We hope to have a decision in place by the time of the state track meet at the end of May,'' Elling told the Mirror on Saturday at the Northwest AAA Regional Wrestling Tournament. "I don't have a direct say in where this regional goes, but I would still say that Altoona will be at the top of the list.''
There are currently six Class AAA wrestling regionals in Pennsylvania, and only five in Class AA. Part of the PIAA Board's thinking in eliminating the Northwest AAA Regional would be to even the count.
Moreover, while the Southcentral Regional includes 60 District 3 schools, the Southwest Regional includes 50 District 7 schools, and the Northwest Regional includes just 31 schools, each of the regionals is awarded the same number of three state tournament qualifiers.
Though the PIAA's quest for greater parity seems to be a valid one, Elling said that almost none of the districts are on board with the PIAA's proposed changes.
"The District 8 teams want to stay in the Northwest Regional, and so do the District 10 teams,'' Elling said. "Even the District 7 and District 3 people don't want to take on extra teams, unless it means that their regionals will get another state qualifier for doing so.''
Altoona is still in a position of strength to host the tournament.
"No other sites are jumping up and down to host the tournament, and Altoona has always done it so well,'' Elling said. "A lot of changes would have to be made if the tournament were moved.''
Philipsburg-Osceola coach Tim McCamley would like to see the Northwest AAA Regional stay in Altoona.
"Altoona is a great facility, and it's a very comfortable place to be,'' McCamley said. "I think the wrestlers who come out of this regional have always represented themselves well at the state tournament.''
Altoona coach Joel Gilbert would also love to see the Northwest Regional stay right where it is - at the Fieldhouse.
"I think it's good for our kids,'' Gilbert said. "I'd like to see it stay here.''