By: John Raffel
MHSAA changes venues on wrestling, girls hoops
The MHSAA representative council, at its May meeting, approved new homes for team wrestling, individual wrestling and girls basketball or the 2017-18 season.
The girls basketball semifinals and finals, played from 2004-06 and then 2010-17 at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center at Michigan State University, will move to Van Noord Arena on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids the MHSAA said in a statement. The team wrestling finals, contested the last two seasons at McGuirk Arena at Central Michigan University after a long tenure at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, will begin at least a four-year engagement at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo.
The individual wrestling finals, which was a three day event hosted by The Palace of Auburn Hills from 2002 through this March, will be contested at Ford Field in Detroit over two days.
In addition to those changes, the Representative Council also approved keeping the MHSAA boys basketball semifinals and finals at the Breslin Center for the 2017-18 season and approved a return to Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome as the host of both eight-player football finals in 2017.
The girls basketball finals weekends in 2018 and also 2020-22 will conflict with the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament and an opportunity for Michigan State’s women’s team to host first and second-round games should it qualify and earn a top-16 overall seed the MHSAA noted. The Palace is expected to close before next season, with the Detroit Pistons moving to Little Caesar's Arena.
“It is with much gratitude to our recent hosts of the girls basketball and wrestling finals that we make these changes. But although we have enjoyed our time and relationships built, we also are excited to work with these next facilities and their staffs, who are similarly passionate about creating the finest experiences for our athletes and fans,” MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts said in a statement. “We received interest from a number of facilities and managers who also value what our championship events provide for teams and their communities, and we’re eager to begin working with Calvin College, Wings Event Center and our familiar friends at Ford Field and Northern Michigan University on these endeavors.”
Roberts added that contracts for the girls and boys basketball and individual wrestling tournaments are for 2017-18 only, but with the possibility of remaining at those sites additional years. The Council also mulled the possibility of changing both girls and boys basketball tournament schedules beginning with the 2018-19 season to help keep more Division I college and commercial venues available to host those events. The MHSAA will investigate alternative sites and develop an adjusted basketball season schedule for Council consideration in December. The boys basketball finals weekend in 2019, as scheduled, also conflicts with the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament.
Although Van Noord Arena has never hosted an MHSAA Final, it twice has hosted NCAA Division III women’s college basketball finals.
"To host the MHSAA girls basketball state championship weekend is an honor for the Calvin College community," said Donna Joyce, Calvin's Business Development Manager, in a statement. "We can't wait to welcome teams and their fans, and our goal is to provide first-rate hospitality to all who visit our beautiful campus next March."
Morley Stanwood boys basketball coach Bob Raven, who skippered the girls to a state title at the Breslin, indicated he's disappointed with the move.
“I understand the change and why it occurred, and the Calvin facility is very nice,” he said. “However, with that being said, it was a great memory for our players and fans to play at the Breslin Center. We felt it was an honor to get to play there. I am sure that Calvin's arena will create a lot of memories for the teams playing there. But for us, the state finals at the Breslin was a special weekend. The goal for our program for years was the 'Breslin Center,' and to have it become a reality that resulted in a state championship created lifelong memories.
“So, personally, I am disappointed to see that tradition of playing there end. But for teams that are fortunate enough to make it to the semis or/and finals, they probably will be thrilled to play wherever the MHSAA places it.”
Wings Event Center will allow the MHSAA to again stage all four championship matches on adjacent mats simultaneously. Wings has seating for 5,100 fans and additional standing-room capacity for 1,000 more.
Ford Field, which has hosted MHSAA football championship games since 2005, will be configured for placement of up to 20 mats covering approximately half the football playing surface area. Seating will be configured to a capacity of roughly 24,000 in the lower bowl., the MHSAA said. The tournament schedule, which previously included one round of wrestling on the first day, followed by four rounds on both the second and third days of the event, will be adjusted to begin with four rounds Friday, March 2, 2018, and end with five rounds on Saturday, March 3. The three-day wrestling event drew 37,013 fans this past winter.
Wrestling coaches had various thoughts about the move.
“I'm not sure on Wings, we will have to wait and see,” Chippewa Hills' Nate Ethridge said. “I have only been there one time and it was for MYWAY team finals. The glass was up and I doubt that it will look the same. I know that our experience from a coach and athlete standpoint was great at CMU but there were issues with seating. I think Wings has about 1,000 more seats.
“The Palace was a great host since 2002. I really believe that our Individual finals will move to Little Caesars Arena in 2019 and that Ford Field will be a one-year fix. Twenty mats, two days should be interesting. Not sure how they are going to section off half of Ford Field though and still make it fan friendly.
“I do trust the leadership at the MHSAA and they have been great since Mark Uyl came on board and now Dan Hutchenson about taking input from coaches and trying to make it the best experience for coaches, athletes and fans.”
RJ Boudro, of Lowell, agreed.
“Ford Field, I'm a little worried with the hotels being expensive down there,” he said. “Having it in Detroit might be good for the city. We have to trust the MHSAA in knowing what they're doing. It's a big place. I hope they can pull it off there.
“The warmup space at The Palace, was very poor. Since Ford Field is so big, I'm hoping there will be more warm up areas. Having it two days, I think, is a good thing.”
Jeff Campbell's New Lothrop wrestlers are accustomed to being at both state and individual finals.
“Team wise, we had a switch recently and I think it could be an exciting change,” he said. “I look forward to seeing what Ford Field can do. I enjoyed our time at The Palace.”