Qualification tournaments for high school state wrestling have begun across Colorado with elevated standards to advance past regionals in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state championship venue has been changed from its customary location of Ball Arena, formerly known as the Pepsi Center, in Denver and shifted to the Southwest Motors Events Center at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo.
And instead of competing in front of thousands of fans in the state’s biggest indoor arena, the event will be closed to the general public. Still, with at least two family members per qualifying wrestler permitted with Pueblo functioning in Level Blue on the COVID-19 dial and with 116 wrestlers per classification, it is set to be one of the largest public gatherings since the pandemic began.
“I’m a small town guy, and I love bringing events to the smaller towns that want us there,” said CHSAA assistant commissioner Adam Bright, who oversees football and wrestling and led a highly-successful football state championship weekend in December in Pueblo. “A goal in this entire pandemic season has been to provide championship atmospheres at culminating events. Southwest Motors Arena and the entire Colorado State Fairgrounds campus provides the space necessary to produce an award-winning state championship tournament within COVID restrictions.
“The City of Pueblo continues to be a great partner as we strive to generate the excitement that surrounds CHSAA championship events, and the 2021 Wrestling State Championships should be yet another exciting and storied event.”
CHSAA has sought a variance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to allow up to four family members per qualifying wrestler. An announcement on exactly how many spectators will be allowed is expected early in the week. Temperatures will be taken for anyone entering the building upon entry.
To space out athletes and fans, only one classification will wrestle at a time on the eight mats inside Southwest Motors Events Center. Once one classification finishes a session, fans will exit the arena and not return until their child’s classification has its next session.
CHSAA also spread out the action to provide a one-day tournament for each classification. Girls wrestling, in its first official season as a CHSAA sanctioned activity, will be held Thursday. Classes 2A and 3A will wrestle Friday, and 4A and 5A will have their tournaments Saturday.
A key change this year is that all matches that determine podium places will happen at one time, meaning a state championship match will happen at the same time as the third- and fifth-place matches in the same weight classes. It will add excitement for teams chasing state championships with all the major points up for grabs in the final session of each tournament.
“We might keep that going forward,” Bright said. “Having all the team championship points determined at the same time adds excitement throughout that entire final round.”