When the District 6 Class AA Duals pairings came out last week, Cambria Heights was the No. 8 seed and was scheduled to wrestle top-seeded Mount Union on Wednesday.
That's when it got messy.
Cambria Heights coach Mike Eckenrode was informed that his team had qualified at noon on Friday, at the Thomas Subaru Tournament, but Eckenrode chose to opt out of the Duals. Don Hosterman, the wrestling contact for District 6, and District 6 chairman Ray Wotkowski said the call from Heights came at 2:30 Friday afternoon.
Claysburg-Kimmel was ranked ninth in the point standings. Initially, C-K did slide into that No. 8 spot and was even in the brackets on the District 6 web site. That meant, the Bulldogs would face off with Mount Union. The Bulldogs gave the unbeaten Trojans their closest battle this season, losing 39-32 on Dec. 27.
"We don't stand a snowball's chance against Mount Union," Heights coach Mike Eckenrode said. "Claysburg has the best chance to beat them, and they would be wrestling them if [C-K] hadn't lost three matches after a controversial call at the Richland Duals."
Eckenrode was, of course, referring to the Blairsville match at Richland, when Dylan Weyant was disqualified for biting Bobby Thompson. C-K lost three team points in the match and Blairsville won, 37-36. Weyant, under PIAA rules, was forced to sit out Saturday's action. C-K lost to Huntingdon, 44-27, and West Branch, 39-31, on Saturday.
When Eckenrode made his choice, rumors began to float that C-K coach Dave Marko somehow influenced Eckenrode into dropping out of the Duals.
"I was getting calls from all kinds of people, and one of them was a coach," said Hosterman, who was not at the Thomas Tournament. "We heard rumors [C-K] was doing this."
Hosterman wouldn't reveal who the coach was that he got the call from.
As a result of the supposed rumors and also the timing of the decision to not wrestle, which I'll get into later, C-K wasn't allowed to be the No. 8 team, and Heights will wrestle Mount Union.
Both Marko and Eckenrode vehemently deny that Marko influenced Eckenrode's decision.
"That was [expletive]," Eckenrode said. "The only person I talked about it with before I made the decision was [Penn Cambria's] Todd Niebauer. Dave Marko didn't influence me at all. I talked to him after I made the decision, and I told him 'You guys deserve another shot at Mount Union.' "
"I find it completely ridiculous," Marko said. "We were prepared to move on. I only looked at possible avenues after Cambria Heights wanted out. I don't believe I've been accused of this. I felt I did everything right."
Niebauer also denied Marko's involvement.
"Mike did come to me, and, contrary to what some believe, it was all coming from [Eckenrode] and concern for his kids. We talked and I said I would want my kids in [the Duals] to have that experience no matter what, but it was his call. I have known Mike Eckenrode all of my life, and he is one of the highest character guys that I know.
"I was right in the middle of things from the beginning, and I can tell you 100 percent that [decision] came right from Mike Eckenrode, not anyone else."
The sad thing about this is that the rumors were believed, and decisions were made based on rumors. Neither Hosterman nor Wotkowski talked to Marko about whether the rumors were true.
"I only talk to administrators," Hosterman said. "I talked to athletic directors. I don't talk to coaches."
"Because I've been a principal for 26 years [at Forest Hills], I know that communication goes both ways," Wotkowski said. "If a decision has been made, they know where the answers are."
The District 6 officials also objected to the timing of the decision, even though the call was made to them 2 1/2 hours after Heights was notified of making the Duals. They say Heights should have notified them of their decision before the deadline, which was Thursday night.
It says here, what's the difference whether the decision was made to pull out Thursday night or Friday afternoon? We're just talking about hours here. If the district really wants the best teams in the field, who cares about a couple hours?
Seventh-seeded Moshannon Valley wrestles at second-seeded West Branch tonight. Wednesday, fourth-seeded Huntingdon hosts fifth-seeded Richland, and third-seeded Blairsville hosts sixth-seeded Juniata. The top four teams in each class wrestle Saturday in Tyrone.
District 6 doesn't have a rule about teams deciding not to enter the Duals. Wotkowski said there is a meeting on Wednesday to discuss that. Barn doors and horses come to mind for some reason.
Many teams have opted out of the Duals in the past, including Altoona in the early years of the event, Glendale, which was the most recent three years ago, and Marion Center, also in the early years. District 6 officials accepted those decisions in the past and just slid the next team up in the standings.
"I am not very happy that the rules where changed in the middle of the game here," said Niebauer, a former president of the District 6 Coaches Association.
"I don't care what teams were involved. In 2009, Glendale opted out later in the day on that Friday and we slid up from eighth to seventh, and the ninth seed moved up. There was no difference here at all. A team did not want in for their own reasons, and that is their right."
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at ToddIrwin1.