FRANKLIN, Tenn. — The Williamson County Agricultural Expo, in its fourth year as home to the Tennessee high school state wrestling championships, is the butt of crass comments and jokes.
Coaches -- many, anyway -- refer to it as the Cow Palace, and many of them view this dirt-floor arena as an indoor facility for rodeos and horse shows, a building more suited for 4H clubs than their wrestlers.
And some make no bones about it.
"I do not think it is a suitable location," Baylor coach Ben Nelson said. "This is a facility that does not even contain a locker room for a full-contact sport. Taking a shower is not even an option. Athletes have to change in the middle of a public restroom."
And he was just getting warmed up.
"There are no warm-up mats. They confine teams to a ridiculously small space when half of the facility is empty," he added. "The viewing angles for fans are poor, and a wrestling fan trying to enjoy the best of both divisions before the finals does not have that option."
So would he change anything?
And is there anything he likes about it?
There are improvements over Clarksville, the former host, and even Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena, which formerly hosted the traditional tournament.
"I'm not really about the flash," Cleveland coach Jake Yost said. "I don't think it's the most clean-looking or extravagant place, but it gets the job done."
There are numerous advantages that should go to the Cow Palace: It is the most centrally located venue the state has found, and the people who take care of the facility do a great job of keeping the bathrooms clean and stocked in addition to continually emptying trash receptacles.
There is ample parking, and for the first time the TSSAA gets a share of that financial pie and the facility is virtually rent-free.
Former Soddy-Daisy coach Steve Henry, still head of the coaches' association, feels the TSSAA has made strides each year to improve the facility but has suggested repeatedly that the organization push its start times up, especially on Saturday.
"It gives people time to get on the road and get home at a decent hours, plus it would be advantageous to the media," he said. "I love how open it is and I also love the fact there are no Nazis checking or prohibiting teams from bringing in the kinds of food they need."
Former Cleveland coach Eric Phillips agreed.
"It is not as intimate and maybe not as fan-friendly, but as a coach I love it," he said. "My biggest complaint would be the lack of shower facilities. One year we rented two hotel rooms after the finals and took our time, letting the kids take a shower before we made that three-hour trip home."
Said East Ridge coach Brad Laxton: "Don't like the atmosphere. It isn't what it was at UTC. I've coached in Alabama and Florida and Tennessee, and I haven't seen a venue as good as McKenzie. Now, I would consider this the worst of the three states. At least the others don't have dirt floors. It's a little bush-league."
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 ...