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Junior high wrestling event hits Hempfield

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

When Southmoreland High School wrestling coach Ryan Shaw organized the WPIAL Junior High Tournament three years ago, many coaches wanted him to expand it to a state tournament.

That will happen Saturday and Sunday at Hempfield High School as wrestling fans will get to see a glimpse of the future with the first Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Junior High State Championship.

The tournament is open to wrestlers in grades 7-9 and freshmen who are not on a high school roster, and it replaces the 13-14 Division in the PJW state tournament, which is March 21-22 in Harrisburg. Wrestlers in seventh grade who are 12 must decide between this weekend's tournament or the tournament in Harrisburg. They can't compete in both.

“Three years ago, we really wanted to give the kids in junior high their own championship,” said Shaw, who serves as tournament director with Connellsville Junior High coach Don Dolde. “The junior high kids were waiting around for the end of March to compete in Junior Olympics. This gives the kids a chance to win something.

“People saw the success we had with the WPIAL Junior tournament and wanted to expand it. It will be at Hempfield for two years.”

The tournament will feature 26 wrestlers, two each from the 13 area tournaments across the state, in each of the 18 weight classes. The 13 areas held a qualifier last weekend.

When Shaw started the WPIAL tournament, there were 38 teams that competed. That expanded to 64 teams this year.

“All the coaches were excited,” Shaw said. “A lot of coaches were tired of not having a postseason tournament for the wrestlers who are not eligible for the PJWs.”

Greensburg Salem's Greg Jones, the most decorated wrestler from Area 3 and a former NCAA champion from West Virginia, and former Penn State national champion Quentin Wright are expected to hand out medals at Sunday's finals, which are expected to begin at 2 p.m.

Shaw said organizers hope the WPIAL and PIAA eventually take over the tournaments.

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