WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP - New Jersey high school wrestlers will still pursue the lofty goal of competing for state titles in Atlantic City for the next three years.
The executive committee of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association on Wednesday approved a three-year deal to hold the state individual wrestling championships at Boardwalk Hall, beginning in 2013.
The 2013 championships will be held March 8-10, a week later than it has been held the last seven years. The NJSIAA runs the tournament and oversees New Jersey high school sports.
The three-day wrestling event annually draws more than 40,000 fans to the hall.
Local wrestlers and coaches were thrilled with the decision.
"It's so close," Egg Harbor Township wrestler Brandon Bower said. "I've been practicing my whole life to get there. You picture yourself wrestling there growing up."
Oakcrest coach Drew Muzslay joked that he is happy the event is staying at Boardwalk Hall because he lives in Ventnor.
"Everybody has a good seat in Atlantic City," he said. "You're right on top of (the action). There are restaurants for people. The Boardwalk is there."
Boardwalk Hall marketing manager Elizabeth Marmo said Wednesday that Hall officials could not yet comment on the deal because they hadn't been officially notified by the NJSIAA. But Boardwalk Hall general manager Greg Tesone said Tuesday he wanted the event to remain in Atlantic City.
The tournament has been at Boardwalk Hall every year since 1992 except for a stretch from 1998-2001 when it was held at the Atlantic City Convention Center and the Izod Center in East Rutherford. Boardwalk Hall underwent a $90 million renovation during those years.
NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko declined to comment Wednesday on the specifics of the deal with Boardwalk Hall until the contract is officially signed.
The NJSIAA's contract with Boardwalk Hall ended this year. Last spring, the NJSIAA submitted requests for proposals from facilities around the state to host the event.
The NJSIAA offered the event up for bid in part because the organization is under financial duress because of a 2010 law that limits the amount of money it can charge for tickets. The NJSIAA made about $130,000 on the wrestling tournament last March.
Tickets for this March's event will cost $10 for adults and $2 for students and senior citizens. Those ticket prices will include a $1 Boardwalk Hall facility fee that the NJSIAA has complained about in the past.
Boardwalk Hall and the Izod Center were the only two arenas to submit proposals to the NJSIAA to hold the championships, according to Timko. The NJSIAA was left with an easy choice when Izod pulled its proposal last week. Timko said the arena had an opportunity to book another event.
"We've done that due diligence to look for another venue," Timko said.
Now that the decision to stay with Boardwalk Hall has been made, the NJSIAA must still deal with some logistical issues.
Since 2007, the wrestling championships have been held the first weekend of March.
But pop star Lady Gaga tweeted earlier this month that she will perform at Boardwalk Hall on Saturday, March 2. That has forced the NJSIAA to move the tournament to the second weekend of March for 2013.
The 2013 NJSIAA wrestling schedule has a 13-day gap between the end of the region championships and the start of the finals in Atlantic City.
Timko said the NJSIAA's 12-member wrestling committee will devise a plan to deal with that dilemma. The committee, which consists of coaches, athletic directors and tournament directors from around the state, will meet as soon as possible, according to Timko.
"We will be looking at all options, the least amount of kids affected, current schedules," he said. "If I could call the meeting tomorrow, I would."
Timko declined to comment on what the committee would do. He also declined to comment on the possibility of moving the district and region championships a week later.
Timko said the first weekend in March is available at Boardwalk Hall in 2014 and 2015.
The NJSIAA also approved adding a second-round of wrestlebacks to the tournament starting in 2013. The addition means that every wrestler who qualifies for states is guaranteed at least two bouts. However, a wrestler who loses in the first round can only finish as high as third place.
NJSIAA officials said the extra round of wrestlebacks will cost the NJSIAA an additional $4,300 and will affect 112 wrestlers.
The association will also no longer run the 32 district wrestling tournaments. The host high schools will take over that responsibility and keep all revenue. Timko said the NJSIAA lost about $40,000 running the district tournaments last season.
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