Ron Brocato, Sports, Clarion Herald
It’s time for the newly approved State Wrestling Tournament committee to get to work to find a future site for that championship event.
The tournament’s stay at Bossier City’s CenturyLink Center has run its course. The management there did a good job of running the massive two-day event, but now it’s time to take the state tournament to the spectators.
But to where?
The Pontchartrain Center is a fine facility for the state volleyball championships. And it had been the most suitable place in which to hold the state wrestling tournament … that is, until the sport’s popularity drew such enormous crowds that it tested the safety of participants and spectators in an emergency situation.
The Kenner facility, ideal for craft fairs, home-and-garden shows and gun-and-knife displays, can no longer handle the enormous number of high school wrestling parents and enthusiasts. It became a fire marshal’s nightmare as the overflow crowds forced bodies to pour onto the perimeter of the arena floor, just a few feet from the three mats during the championship events.
The building seats 3,600 for sporting events, according to its promotional pamphlet. But that number pales in comparison to the throng of people who used to crowd into the building for the Saturday night matches.
Size isn’t the problem
CenturyLink Center is an SMG facility (yes, the same management that runs the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Smoothie King Center and other large venues throughout the state).
It seats up to 14,000 spectators, more than enough for wrestling. It has 16 luxury suites, 200 restrooms and slightly more than 4,000 parking spaces.
The trouble is that it is located 326 miles from New Orleans in the northwest corner of the state. The trip to the Red River takes nearly five hours. An overnight stay is almost a necessity.
The Louisiana High School Athletic Association office reported that the attendance for last week’s tournament was 6,306, a 23.5 percent increase over the 2017 attendance of 5,106.
The attendance figures may justify having an arena of that size, but other numbers show why CenturyLink is not the best venue for a sport that thrives in the lower parishes more than in the north.
Twenty-nine schools wrestled in the Division I bracket.
Two were from the Bossier area (Airline finished sixth and Byrd High placed 24th).
The top four finishers were 1. Brother Martin, 2. Jesuit, 3. Holy Cross and 4. St. Paul’s.
The remaining 23 participating schools are located down the I-10 or I-12 corridors.
The northwest parishes did much better in Division II. Led by champion Parkway, the Bossier area had eight of the 23 participating schools. The next-highest finisher was North DeSoto, which placed ninth.
Of the 24 schools to enter teams in the Division III tournament, just four – Ouachita Christian, Lakeside (Sibley), Loyola Prep and Summerfield – are north of Alexandria.
There must be some venue between New Orleans and Lafayette whose management is interested in opening its doors to 6,000 spectators. That sounds like a profitable venture to me.
Now it’s up to the State Wrestling Tournament committee, approved by 84 percent of LHSAA members in January, to find that building.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com.