Grading the 2021 LHSAA State Wrestling Championships
Date, 2021 Written by: Staff writer



Grading the 2021 LHSAA State Wrestling Championships

A wrestler and I chatted a few weeks after the 2021 LHSAA State Wrestling Championships.  Some segue led to the Outstanding Wrestler award winners’ photo-ops with Eddie Bonine.  The young man asked me where Bonine wrestled.  I explained that Bonine was the executive director of the LHSAA – not a wrestler.

The 2020 Spartan Invitational Champions

Many will remember the 2021 tournament as the COVID state championships.  The pandemic permeated every aspect of the 2020-21 wrestling season.  Scores of dual meets and tournaments were cancelled.  When the Louisiana Classic was associated with a COVID outbreak, the LHSAA decided to cancel the last five weeks of the regular season.  They did that “to preserve the state championships.¹

COVID was undoubtedly a new wrinkle which the LHSAA had to accept.  Yet so did the officials, coaches and wrestlers.  The latter three got through the season and the state championships with aplomb.  Why could not the LHSAA do the same?

There are three major parts of such an event.  The wrestlers come first, of course.  Included with them are the coaches and officials.  Second comes the venue of the event, the Raising Cane’s River Center in Baton Rouge.  Third (and fittingly last this year) comes the LHSAA, the organization responsible for putting the event together.

I have graded those three aspects of the event.  Was I fair in my attempt?  I think I was.  If others disagree, that is fine. 


They did exactly what they were expected to do, and it was breathtaking.  For proof, just look at the finals.  Four Division I state champions were decided by one point.  Evan and Jacob Frost of Holy Cross, Glenn Price of Shaw and Andrew Trahan of Brusly won their third consecutive state championship.  Ernie Perry, III of Airline, Tyrick Clay and Kendrell Williams of Carencro, Peyton Ward of St. Paul and Jacob Ramirez of Rummel became two-time state champions.  Brusly’s Alex Menier became the fourth Bearcat to win four consecutive state titles.  In the Division I 152 lbs. finals a seventh-seed (Jake Romig of Holy Cross) defeated a fifth-seed (Eli Hope of Brother Martin).

Perry, Price and Evangel freshman Michael Gilreath are on the path to winning four consecutive state titles.  The Frosts are on that path as well.  Just not in Louisiana.  Winning a fourth state title in the Hawkeye state is possible for either of them, however.  As nice as it might be for fans to see them it was a great decision for the twins. 

St. Paul ran away with their first Division I team championship, winning by 51 points over a surprising Holy Cross squad.  Even more surprising was the team from East Ascension.  The Spartans became the first public school to place as high as third since the 1999 Grace King Irish. 

Teurlings Catholic demolished any thoughts of a tight Division II team race with North Desoto.  The Rebels won their ninth Division II title with their second-highest margin of victory (70 points vs. 74 in 2015) and second-highest number of state champions (six vs. seven in 2011).  Runner-up North Desoto had five finalists but only one champion.  Shaw had their best finish since 2015 and was a mere 7.5 points behind the Griffins. 

The Basile Bearcats won their third-consecutive team title by 31.5 points over De la Salle.  The Cavaliers were pressed for the runner-up spot by the Hannan Falcons, who finished third by a mere 6.5 points.

Honestly, was anyone surprised that the officials, coaches and wrestlers were able to put on a great show?  They did it through the out-of-state relocation and the return to local devastation after Katrina in 2006.  When whole teams were forced to suspend practices for two weeks at a time this past season, does anyone think the wrestlers just sat home and played on Xboxes? 

The thought brings me back to the photos with Eddie Bonine.   We know what the kids did - they showed it on the mats during the tournament – and that was just a glimpse of the work they put in over the entire season.  They were awesome.  Why wasn’t the tournament equally as awesome?  If the LHSAA had a public relations specialist on hand, Bonine might have been told not to have his photograph taken at all.  He probably would not have been told that; what are the odds that a LHSAA public relations specialist would know anything about wrestling, anyway?

Grade for the wrestlers, coaches and officials: A+


2021 will also be remembered as the first time the state championships were held at the Raising Cane’s River Center in Baton Rouge. 

There were some pros and cons re the River Center.  Some of the cons may not be the fault of River Center administrators, however, and thus may be forgiven.

The size of the arena was fine.  It was large enough to easily handle the biggest crowds on record for viewing a wrestling state championships.  That did not apply this year, though, as only 1,800 spectators per day were allowed.   Neither tournament attendance records nor Kenner fire code violations, both set at the Pontchartrain Center, were in jeopardy.  (Did anyone else wonder why the wrestlers were allowed to sit on the floor around the mats?  Each kid on the floor meant another open seat that could be sold to the general public.)

The staff at the press entrance was great, as were the security personnel at the hospitality rooms.  Much like at the CenturyLink Center, they did their job very professionally.

The security personnel working the barricades were less proficient, at least on Friday.  Prior to the start of Division II and III competition, the coaches were told that they needed to better control who was on the arena floor or inside the barricades.  Too many coaches and wrestlers who are not “on deck” or “in the hole” is a problem that has always plagued the state championships.  The coaches were told that the Louisiana Department of Health could easily shut down the event as a potential COVID-spreader if such conditions continued.  

The people who should have been addressed were the security personnel guarding the mat area.  The coaches did not worry about such things.  They have enough to do without having to do the jobs of others hired for the same reason.

Not 10 minutes into the Division II and III wrestling I was at a barricade entrance.  Inside the barricades were two coaches and about seven wrestlers from a certain school.  Whatever the coach had to say obviously could not wait until they found any of the more than ample space outside of the barricades.  There was a security guard there, of course.  I asked him if this was the first time he had seen high school wrestling.  He said it was and that he enjoyed watching the action on the mat.  I am sure he did, as the chair in which he was sitting had an unobscured view to the mats.
On Saturday I met another security guard.  He told me that when he could, he would peek at some of the wrestling.  But that did not happen much.  He guarded that barricade entrance like Cerberus at the gates of the Underworld.  Sneaking by him was not possible as he steadfastly watched and questioned the people entering the mat area.  I actually asked if it was OK if, once in a while, my camera lens crossed over the top of the barricades.  He should have trained the other security personnel.  He should teach seminars on how to manage the insides of barricades.  He and one other with similar devotion, should have been in charge of Louisiana Classic spectators, possessing eviction powers.  Were that the case, there might have been a Ken Cole Memorial, a Greater Baton Rouge Championships and many other events held near the end of the season.

The press tables were totally inadequate, even for the minimal number of press allowed on the floor.  Passing between them was hard to start, and damned-near impossible if someone was sitting at one.  I was prevented adding a surge protector to the one that was available, as only one electrical line powered the main computers and everything else around the press tables.  Another surge protector could trip a circuit breaker, I was told.

The press table area needs to be restructured and rewired for 2022.  This was their first tournament, though, and the River Center must have known the number of press allowed would be minimal.  For 2021 the press table inadequacies can be overlooked.

I do not know if the River Center or the LHSAA provided the security personnel.  Regardless, someone should have told them what to do.

I cannot in good faith blame any of the “cons” I found on the River Center, as this was their first time hosting the event.  Someone should notify the River Center “powers that be” about these issues.  Then we should see what happens next year.

Grade for the Raising Cane’s River Center:  Incomplete

3)   The Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA)

It is important to remember that this was the LHSAA’s first COVID-affected state wrestling championships.  Thus, you should not judge the LHSAA too harshly on this one event.

Let me do that. 

There were several issues related to the pandemic that the LHSAA had to face this season.  Yet was that enough to give the LHSAA “a break?”  Not really.  It took a global catastrophe and the Louisiana Department of Health for the LHSAA to pretend to care about wrestling.  And what did they do?

 1)     They adopted National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) COVID prevention measures.

The NFHS COVID prevention measures, included in NFHS publications “2020-21 Wrestling Considerations” and “GUIDANCE FOR OPENING UP HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS AND ACTIVITIES.” They were incorporated in an LHSAA Memorandum entitled LHSAA General Guidelines for Winter Sports Competitions².   The guidelines first bordered on lunacy, and then, much like Hitler re the Soviet Union in 1942, they wholeheartedly invaded The Twilight Zone.

Example of the NFHS Guidelines the LHSAA chose to adopt include, but are not limited to, the following:

·      Eliminate handshakes pre- and post-match,

·      Eliminate handshakes with coaches’ post-match,

·      Stagger weight classes, so not everyone is in chairs mat-side,

·      Wrestlers may skill and drill without touching a teammate,

·      No one touches the score sheet except the scorer.

The first NFHS measure listed above was the best.  The wrestlers were not allowed to shake hands after spending six or more minutes respiring all over one another.  Yet, for the record, I am keeping a watchful eye on score sheets from now on.  COVID may only be a “gateway” virus for them. 

2)      They cancelled the last five weeks of the season due to speculation that the Louisiana Classic may have been a mini “spreader” event.

Louisiana wrestling coaches know how to count to 14.  They had already rearranged their end-of-season events to make sure there was enough time for a two-week quarantine prior to the state tournament.  The Ken Cole Memorial, which had already been pared down, and the GBRs, could have been held, as could several end-of-season regional events.

3)      They “preserved” the state championship tournament? 

The worst thing the LHSAA had to suffer was the financial “beat down” they took at the gate.  They could have suffered a little more by putting on a great event despite the pandemic.  A thousandth of the effort the kids put into the season would have done the trick.  But it is a safe bet nobody from the LHSAA knows anything about such “effort.”  They certainly did not show it at this event.

The LHSAA did face some viable COVID concerns.  But I believe they made up a few as the tournament progressed.  Come the finals, they appeared to be more concerned with getting home.

To "preserve" the state championships the LHSAA implemented some ridiculous measures including, but not limited to, the following:

1)   All-Academic Team

There were 12 All-Academic team members with 4.0 GPAs.  Normally, in a prefinals ceremony, they are introduced to the crowd and get individual photographs and a group photo.  This year their names were announced over the PA system.  Could they not have worn masks?  Could they not have taken off the masks and held their breath for fifteen seconds while their individual photographs were taken?  Could they not have estimated what six feet was when they waited until the group photograph was taken?  They could have done all of that while chewing gum and solving differential equations.  They are friggin’ rocket scientists!

(Some may not know who the gentleman on the left is.  I bet the All-Academic
kids do.

I was told they were not introduced on the mats as a COVID-protection measure.  I think they were not introduced because the LHSAA was looking for ways to shorten the event.  The young men deserved better. 

Perhaps one of them should have been in charge of running the tournament.

2)   Friday’s Segregation of Wrestling by Divisions

TrackWrestling (TW) listed 636 wrestlers who participated in the event. 

For this lesson, let us say that there were 300 Division I wrestlers and 300 wrestlers in Division II and III combined.

There were 10 mats, just as in previous years.  Yet Friday morning and early afternoon was limited to Division I matches only.  After the quarterfinals, the Division I wrestlers packed up until an evening session, and the Division II and III wrestlers were allowed to start their tournaments.  Those not wrestling or “on deck” were sequestered in an exhibition hall.

I was told this was a COVID prevention measure.  If so, it was not required.  I was told the room could comfortably fit 600 kids.

More importantly, there are always those who belittle Divisions II and III wrestling.  Some believe success in wrestling is entirely up to the individual wrestler, and that the size of a school or team should not matter.  It does.  One does not get better drilling on one’s own.  One gets better in the practice room, particularly when there are others who want to be a part of a first-string roster.

There does not need to be any more segregation by divisions than in the minds of some fans.  The kids of all three divisions should have been able to interact with each other.

This was not a monstrous problem.  It was just unnecessary.

3)   Awards Presentations

I probably do not quote G.B. Shaw enough because I do not know enough G.B. Shaw quotes.

“No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.”

The state championships awards ceremonies, as I recall them from 2005 to 2018, were terrible.  (They were not as bad in 1980 and 1981, but only three wrestlers per weight class were recognized.)  After the end of the 113 lbs. matches the placers in all three 106 lbs. matches were called to one podium, where their names were announced, their awards were presented and their photographs were taken.  After the next set of three matches were completed, the next weight class placers were recognized on the podium. 

In 2018 genius took over.  It could even have been LHSAA genius, and if so then they get a point in their wrestling “plus” column.  (Their wrestling “plus” column needs, it as it is best described by Boromir – “a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust.”)

In 2018, 2019 and 2020 there were three podiums, one for each division.  As wrestlers from one division were photographed, the others could be announced as they scaled their podiums.  Instead of doing that after each match, the awards were doled out after the 145 lbs. matches and the 285 lbs. matches were completed.  No longer did finalists have to pace up and down the mats waiting for a single awards presentation to end.  The 152 lbs. finalists had to wait, but they knew that well in advance.

At the River Center there was only one podium.  I was told this was a COVID protection measure.  How exactly does keeping 72 kids (six placers x four weight classes x three divisions) in a mask-bereft line act as a COVID deterrent?  (If so, why not put the All-Academic team, six at a time, on top of the podium and take two photographs?)  “Social distancing” was not deemed important in the line or on the podium.  RomaPics actually discouraged masks when they took podium photographs, including when they took team champion and runner-up photos.  That meant crunching 20 or more kids and coaches to fit a 4:6 photograph ratio.  Yet RomaPics thought that was OK.  So, evidently, did the LHSAA.


Despite the COVID pandemic, the LHSAA had a chance to put on a spectacular event for the fans and, more importantly, the wrestlers, to end this most frustrating of seasons.  Instead, they opted for only what was necessary and thus succeeded only in mediocrity.  I got the feeling that the LHSAA personnel just wanted to get the thing over with as soon as possible. 

As coaches, parents and/or ex-wrestlers, we often tell kids there is room for improvement next year.  Actually we tell them that because we are adults, and while they may not believe it, we are proud that they completed a wrestling season even if they did not win a single match, much less if they did not place at the state championships. 

The LHSAA is run by professional adults, though, who appear to know nothing about wrestling.  None of them went through the grief of a wrestling season, complete with dieting, grueling workouts ad infinitum and the doubts when facing an unknown opponent.  The LHSAA participates in only one wrestling event, the state championships, and they do not have any competition.  One would hope that they would place, but there is not a spot for them on the podium.  The best they can do is to pose with a champion.  Under normal circumstances, I would find that embarrassing.  To do so at an event like the 2021 LHSAA State Wrestling Championships I would find unconscionable. 

But what the hey?  At least for the 2022 State Wrestling Championships, there is plenty of room for improvement. 

LHSAA Final Grade: F


¹        Foote, Kevin. Remainder of wrestling's regular season canceled to ensure viability of state tournament.  Advocate [Acadiana] 26 January 2021

²        Eddie Bonine - LHSAA Executive Director.  LHSAA General Guidelines for Winter Sports Competitions.  20 December 2020.   Memo to LHSAA Member School Principals, Athletic Directors, Parish Athletic Directors, Superintendents, LHSAA Officials and Girls’ and Boys’ Basketball, Soccer, Powerlifting and Wrestling Head Coaches   

³        5.5.7. An Article in a Reference Book.  MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.  7th ed.  2009.  Print



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