Nobody knew quite what to expect when the Giant Center played host to the District 3 wrestling competition for the first time.
For years, the event was contested at the old Hersheypark Arena, but in 2017, the tournament was moved across the parking lot to the much more extravagant Giant Center.
Every part of the three-day spectacle that concluded Saturday afternoon was grander. The lights were brighter. The amenities were much more flashy, from the giant overhead Jumbotron to the end-zone scoreboard that displayed the names of match winners. And the expansive seating area was larger. It wasn't full, but it could seat nearly 3,000 more fans if needed.
All weekend long, you heard about the history that was left behind at Hersheypark Arena, but new memories were created at the Giant Center, and they will continue to be for years to come.
In the past, wrestlers from the York-Adams League made their marks at "The Old Barn." There was Kennard-Dale's Chance Marstellar capturing four district gold medals, en route to a perfect 166-0 high school career. There were hundreds of other local wrestlers who scrapped and battled their way to the next stage of the postseason.
So, the question remained, would the Y-A League wrestlers enjoy similar success in the new confines?
Simply put, yes.
Four Y-A League athletes left the Giant Center Saturday with gold medals around their neck: Bermudian Springs' Austin Clabaugh (126 pounds, 2-A) and Noah Fleshman (195 pounds, 2-A), New Oxford's Zurich Storm (120 pounds, 3-A) and Central York's Michael Wolfgram (285 pounds, 3-A). Five others walked away with silver after coming up short in the championship bouts.
The gold medals were especially monumental for Storm and Wolfgram because of what they signified. Class 2-A wrestlers will go on to compete in the Southeast Regional on Friday and Saturday at Wilson West Lawn, so they still have one more stage to go before making states. Storm and Wolfgram, however, booked their spots in the state tournament as the top seeds out of District 3, which also served as the Southcentral Region for the state competition.
For Storm, it was a victory three years in the making. He's competed in the district competition all four years of his Colonial career, every year qualifying for states. However, he had never won district gold, until Saturday. Meanwhile, Wolfgram's first-place result put a golden touch on a season that, so far, has been perfect. The four wins in districts pushed Wolfgram to 34-0 and will make him a serious contender to, not only place at states, but potentially win the weight class.
Nine other Y-A competitors also booked their spot in states in 3-A, with guys such as Red Lion's Dylan Gurreri (160 pounds) making his first state appearance and doing it as a senior. Gettysburg's Dylan Reinert (138), Dallastown's Bryce Shields (220) and Northeastern's Cole Wilson (106) and Blaine Yinger (285) also qualified.
Record year for Rockets: For a storied program such as Spring Grove, which is, arguably, the cream of the crop in the Y-A League, the move to the Giant Center brought about a record performance. For the first time ever, the Rockets will send four wrestlers to the state competition, led by 113-pound finalist Dalton Rohrbaugh, and followed by 120-pounder Clay Baker, 132-pounder Jake Meyer and 220-pounder Nate Young.
In 2-A, six guys competed for district crowns and, while only Clabaugh and Fleshman prevailed, the four others will head to regionals in a prime position to move on to states.
On top of that, 15 other local wrestlers will move onto regionals and, while their seedings aren't as strong as the others, all the district tournament was about was advancing to the next stage and they did just that. At regionals, they'll have a chance to wrestle another weekend and see if they can book their spots at states and earn a return trip to Giant Center.
Think back to all the great moments at Hersheypark Arena supplied by Y-A wrestlers with over the years. Now, think about how special this first year at the Giant Center was.
If you tally all of it up, that's 32 Y-A wrestlers who performed well enough to have their seasons live on a bit longer.
That's not half bad for the first districts at Giant Center.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org