Wrestling: Eastern States Classic canceled amid COVID-19 concerns for host school
The Minisink Valley High School wrestlers heard the news before their coach, Kevin Gallagher, had broken it to them.
And Gallagher said his Warriors were “bummed” when they learned the annual Eastern States Classic, a highly regarded and notoriously challenging wrestling tournament, has been canceled this year.
The event has been held each January at Sullivan Community College in Loch Sheldrake, but tournament director Jeff Cuilty said a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the county “will make it impossible for the school to host a large event on campus.”
Cuilty said the college also expects an uptick in cases during the holiday season, which factored into the decision not to host.
The tournament typically draws many teams from New York and other states, and coaches usually send their top wrestlers to compete.
“It stinks for them. This is for your premier kids,” Cuilty said. “A lot of times, these quality kids don’t get to see each other, except at Eastern States.”
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On Wednesday, Sullivan County had 236 active COVID-19 cases, according to the county’s community dashboard, with 708 people either quarantined or isolated.
Cuilty said it wasn't feasible to hold the tournament at another venue on short notice — 58 days out — and that he's hopeful the tournament can resume in 2023.
Coaches say there may be an impact felt from losing the Eastern States Classic, as seeding for sectionals and states is predicated off past competition. Some are also concerned other wrestling tournaments may be called off this year for COVID-related reasons.
“We’re concerned going forward, I think, as much as anything,” Gallagher said. “I just hope this isn’t the first domino to fall.”
Fox Lane coach Anthony Rodrigues said he’s looking at the upcoming season on a “day by day” basis. Although if tournaments get canceled, he said it may call for coaches to “get creative” as far as getting their wrestlers competition.
“When tournaments get canceled, it’s tough,” Rodrigues said. “Maybe one weekend instead of a tournament, maybe try to get double duals or get a group of kids. I have five or six good kids, you have five that are same weight, let them wrestle. I don’t know, this is all going to be a challenge.”
Impact of losing Eastern States
The Eastern States Classic, many coaches have said, is more difficult than the New York state tournament.
Coaches usually bring their top grapplers to the Eastern States Classic in order to test their mettle against first-class opponents.
In 2020, Arlington’s Dennis Robin took second at Eastern States, becoming the first wrestler in school history to reach the tournament finals. He went on to earn the top seed in the 152-pound bracket in the Section 1 Division I tournament.
Admirals coaches Dave Grafmuller said that the cancellation of Eastern States is a disadvantage for postseason seeding purposes.
“A large part of your seeding is who you beat in past competition,” he said. “We keep track of who they beat and how many points they got, if the kid was all-section the year before or all-state. When you go to Eastern States, you know every one of those kids is someone who’s going to give you points. That helps you be the top seed in the section.”
Cuilty agreed that the loss of the tournament could make seeding more difficult, come sectionals and states.
“When it comes time to do the state tournament meeting and we’re at the seeding meeting, we have no head-to-heads anymore where these kids normally would have met," he said. "And that helps us do the seeding for the states.”
Concern going forward
As of now, the divisional, sectional and state wrestling tournaments are on as planned.
However, several schools host their own tournaments on weekends, as well as between Christmas and New Year’s Day. With the loss of the Eastern States Classic, concerns have been raised if some of those meets that draw more than two teams could also get canceled.
“My fear is, once someone (cancels), it’s easier for the next person to do it,” Gallagher said. “I hope people think it through and give the kids an opportunity to wrestle.”
While that concern exists, coaches are approaching the season with an open mind.
“We’re all just day to day,” Rodrigues said. “I don’t look forward, my biggest concern is tomorrow’s practice, that’s it. It’s a fluid situation.”
Grafmuller said he hasn’t yet been told he can’t host the Mid-Hudson Wrestling Tournament, which brings close to 30 teams to Arlington High School at the end of each December.
The coach is remaining confident everything will go on as scheduled.
“I’ve received no word we won’t be able to hold it, and I guess that gives me more optimism and hope than some other coaches because I have a big tournament that we’re 'full go',” Grafmuller said. “We may get a lot of solicitations from elite teams that are down a tournament, because they can’t send their kids to Easterns. We’ll see how that unfolds.”
A.J. Martelli: 845-437-4836, email@example.com, Twitter: @AJ_Martelli
Eugene Rapay contributed to this report.