The Team Wrestling Finals – coming February 23-24 to Kalamazoo’s Wings Event Center for the first time – provide arguably the most charged championship atmosphere of any event hosted by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
Sticking with the number of champions that will celebrate next month, here are four reasons to check out the action.
32 … to 16 … to 8 … to 4
Over the course of roughly 30 hours, 32 wrestling teams from all over Michigan will be whittled to four champions. Wrestling is the only head-to-head MHSAA sport featuring a format with Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals all contended on back-to-back days at one location.
The tournament is split into four divisions based on school enrollment (the largest schools compete in Division 1, the next-largest in Division 2, etc.). The arena floor is set up with four wrestling mats in a line, adjacent to each other with matches running simultaneously on those four mats. With the quarterfinals taking place on Friday and Semifinals Saturday morning setting up the grand finale – all four championship matches get underway together at 3 that afternoon.
It’s truly a spectacle, complete with on-mat awards presentations for all four champions and runners-up as the weekend comes to a close – with cheering sections for all eight teams giving each a final salute.
Contenders come from all over
Teams and their fans will converge on Kalamazoo from all over our state for this event. And there’s something special about the variety of schools represented over the weekend.
Last season’s field saw the state’s biggest school – Macomb Dakota with roughly 3,000 students – and also some of the smallest, down to Munising with an enrollment of 200.
Total, 23 counties sent at least one team to last year’s Quarterfinals – with Lenawee and Macomb sending three apiece.
We march, we sing, we cheer
The first MHSAA Wrestling Finals took place in 1948. A few traditions have become lasting over the last many years, and especially since a format change created separate team and individual championship meets in 1988. (The Individual Finals this year will take place the weekend after the Team Finals, at Ford Field in Detroit.)
The most visible Team Finals tradition is the march before each of the last three rounds of the tournament. All eight teams – members often huddled and carrying school banners – circle the four-mat area to be cheered before coming together on the mat for the national anthem and competition. Teams also are chosen to carry flags for the United States, Michigan and this year Kalamazoo and the MHSAA.
Singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” also has held a special place at the Team Wrestling Finals. Former Battle Creek Central coach Jeff McGinnis lent his voice to the event as the anthem singer during the Finals’ long run at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, and he also sang at Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena when Finals weekend moved there from Battle Creek in 2016. Last season at McGuirk, the anthem was sung by MHSAA official James McCloughan, a Vietnam veteran and former Army medic who was presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor last summer. Expect another special rendition with school ties at this year’s event.
Perennial Powers Rise
We have tended of late to see many of the wrestling powerhouses back at Finals weekend year after year. The excitement, especially for that team’s fans, hits another level when a new contender breaks through. But it’s also a lot of fun to watch rivalries that have grown through multiple championship matches get renewed again.
In Division 1, Detroit Catholic Central has won four of the last six championships, and Davison has been runner-up four of the last five years – and they met in last year’s Final, a 35-22 Shamrocks win. Lowell has followed four straight Division 2 titles by St. Johns from 2010-13 with four straight as well – including championship match wins over the Redwings in 2014 and 2016.
Richmond or Dundee has claimed the last eight Division 3 championships – and they’ve met in the Final six times over those eight seasons, including last year when Richmond won the title on a tie-breaker with the score knotted 28-28. Similarly, in Division 4, Hudson or New Lothrop has won the last nine titles – and they’ve faced each other in the championship match the last four seasons, with Hudson breaking the Hornets’ three-year hold on the top spot a year ago.
Blog copy and content provided by: Geoff Kimmerly, Michigan High School Athletic Association
Coming to Kalamazoo later this month? Check out our various free guides to help you navigate all there is to see and do while you’re here!