Mat Classic pins down best state tourney title

The Mat Classic is like the WWE met a rodeo after running into a good dose of organized chaos.

The state high school wrestling championships kick off Friday inside the Tacoma Dome and the “aura” surrounding the event is something that can’t be matched. The Gridiron Classic football title games and the state basketball championships are something special, but they can’t hold a candle to Mat Classic.

The extravaganza — which is the best word to describe it — draws 896 wrestlers and 24 wrestling mats from every nook and cranny of the state, over 25,000 fans in its two-day run and media from more than 125 newspapers, television and radio stations.

Wrestlers are a different breed, there’s no doubting that, and I still don’t really understand the attraction of the sport as an admitted football, basketball, baseball fan. But, there’s no doubting a wrestler’s work ethic.

We are in an age where select teams are sprouting up like weeds in April. While sports like basketball, baseball and fastpitch have select-only rosters for kids younger than 10 years old, high school wrestlers still seem to compete for the love of it. Because they sure aren’t doing it for a college scholarship, which some parents and coaches think grow on trees.

Currently, there are no four-year college wrestling programs in the state of Washington. Pacific Lutheran University dropped its team in 2003, as did Central Washington University. In total, 442 colleges or universities across the United States, including 15 in Washington, have cut their wrestling programs since 1972. The teams have been victims of budgets that need to be balanced and the “Olympic” or “non-revenue” sports are the first to go. Officials also blame Title IX, the gender-equality mandate of the 1970s.

So only the best of the best even get a sniff of wrestling after their senior year in high school — something that adds a ton of intensity and pride to Mat Classic action.

The idea for holding a huge wrestling “extravaganza” for all four high school classifications in Washington — 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A/B — at one central location began in the fall of 1988 and the inaugural Classic was held in February of 1989.

Mat Classic I featured three classifications on 18 mats. Over 18,000 spectators watched the action, which was an increase from the combined 16,000 at the separate tournaments in ’88. The tournament went to four classifications in 1998, expanding to 24 mats. It features many characteristics not found at other individual state tournaments in high school sports. The March of Athletes, over 1,000 strong with wrestlers, officials and cheerleaders, is an emotional opening to the finals. There’s also a presentation of Hall of Fame inductees and Academic State Champions, adding to the atmosphere.

But the real highlight of the two days, besides the wrestling, is the dulcet tones of Ed Aliverti reverberating throughout the wooden Tacoma Dome. The Hall of Fame announcer flawlessly juggles the 24 mats, calls out every wrestlers name for everyone to hear and adds to the excitement of the event.

Aliverti has announced wrestling matches at every level, including the past five Olympic Games and the last 28 NCAA Division I National Championships. The former choral director at Edmonds H.S. fell in love with the sport when he recruited six wrestlers to sing in his choir. In turn, they asked him to be the public address announcer for the team’s first dual meet. Aliverti spent two weeks in the wrestling room at practices to learn the sport and the rest is history.

So if you want to experience the best of high school athletics, spend a day at the Mat Classic. You won’t regret it.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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