As a former wrestler in Ohio, I began every single season from the time I started competing as a fifth-grader with the goal of one day becoming a state qualifier.

It gave me - and countless of others in the sport - a reason to dig deeper each practice in order to answer the only question that mattered: Did you make state?

Being able to answer it with "yes" automatically bought you respect and put you in an exclusive club.

That hasn't been the case in recent years in Arizona for cross country and wrestling in Class 5A.

All varsity competitors automatically qualified for the state meet making a mockery of the process.

It was a terrible idea that crowded the course with individuals that didn't deserve to compete at the state's highest level or turned wrestlers into human first-round forfeits for a higher seeded wrestler.

A state event should be reserved for the very best; not just anyone who had the ability to lace a pair of running shoes or snap on headgear.

That's why I love the fact that the Arizona Interscholastic Association has completely overhauled the way individual state tournaments are conducted.

The laughing can stop, the head shaking will lessen and the college recruiters will have a better idea of who to focus on now that the changes have been made.

The biggest loser in all of this might be the Kukulski Brothers, the company that the AIA has a contract with for their entire trophy needs because the order is going to be a whole lot less this season.

As a whole the decision to reduce the number of region and state tournaments is viewed as a positive step.

The AIA did it mostly for financial reasons - it's a 21 percent reduction across the board - as fewer venues need to be rented, fewer trophies need to be bought, less travel is made and the total number of events for individual and team tournaments has been curtailed from 1,577 to 1,251 for 14 sports.

That's all well and good. In these times everyone needs a financial break. Save as much money as possible and do some good with it.

Additionally, being an Arizona state champion will also be held in a higher regard to recruiters now that the state title isn't a watered down sham.

I have talked to numerous college recruiters for wrestling over the years. Several of them said Arizona state champions can sometimes become an afterthought because there were too many (six per weight class) of them to look at.

If they didn't compete in national events they rarely got a sniff because winning a state tournament in Arizona was the equivalent of winning a regular season tournament in other states.

Arizona has 186 wrestling schools, including Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista, and in previous years there were six divisions, meaning a state champion was the best out of about 30 other competitors at most.

When comparing that to California (where one state champion is named for the entire state), Ohio (700 schools/three state champions) and other wrestling rich states it used to be laughable.

Now that changes with this improved process. There will now be three state champions per weight class and the field is determined by sectional tournaments.

In other words, they will have to earn their way to being a state qualifier.

And from this point forward it doesn't ring hollow. They will be part of an exclusive club.

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