published Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

UTC to host Southern Scuffle wrestling

The Southern Scuffle, one of the nation’s premier collegiate wrestling events, is moving to Chattanooga.

The tournament, considered to be on a par with the long-running Midlands tournament, will be held Jan. 1-2 at McKenzie Arena on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.

“This is a great step for our program and it should be a huge asset to our city,” Mocs coach Heath Eslinger said. “The city of Chattanooga provides a lot to the university, and this is a chance to give something back.”

Eslinger is awaiting contracts from a number of schools but believes he’ll have at least six of the nation’s top 15 teams in a field of at least 25.

“We may not have as many teams this year as we would have liked, because the tournament’s fate was up in the air when many of the coaches made out their schedules,” Eslinger said. “I think, though, that it is safe to say that there will be multiple NCAA All-Americans in the tournament.”

Last year’s Scuffle included 2011 NCAA champion Penn State and NCAA runner-up Cornell, along with Minnesota and Michigan, which finished seventh and 15th at the nationals. Other participants included Duke, Kent State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Army, Navy, Air Force, Lock Haven, Oregon State, Old Dominion and Penn, plus Southern Conference members Appalachian State and The Citadel and possible new SoCon wrestling members Gardner-Webb and Campbell.

Tickets for last year’s event were $15 for adults and $5 for students.

The tournament had been hosted for eight years by UNC Greensboro but became available when the UNCG administration decided to drop the wrestling program.

“Our ultimate hope was that Greensboro would reinstate its program. The wrestling community is tight, and we all wanted what was best for them,” Eslinger said. “We also wanted what was best for Chattanooga, and we wanted Chattanooga to be [the tournament’s] next stop.”

Even before it became undeniable that UNCG’s program was gone, Eslinger began groundwork including reserving McKenzie Arena, securing UTC athletic director Rick Hart’s blessing and drumming up support that included the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee.

“Several teams on the East Coast would have liked to have the opportunity to have the event. The thing wasn’t owned by anybody,” Eslinger said. “I didn’t have to ask permission to get the tournament. It was more of having our ducks in a row in hopes that [getting it] was a possibility.”

There was some concern about having the tournament on New Year’s Day, but the scheduled dates are possibly better for the collegiate wrestling world. Last year’s Southern Scuffle was held on Dec. 28-29, which really crowds the Christmas break.

“This way teams will have up to five days of training before the tournament,” Mocs assistant Rocco Mansueto said.

UTC once hosted the Southern Open, an open preseason tournament, but other than the Southern Conference event a couple of years ago, the city has not had a college wrestling tournament in more than two decades.

The Sports Committee helped nail down the Scuffle’s move to Chattanooga.

“We are, I guess, co-hosts for lack of a better term,” said Scott Smith, the event’s executive director. “We’ll probably help coordinate some things and help run the event, and we’ll provide some financial help as well.”

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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