HEISER: Even at 'Old Barn,' gold medals to shine just as brightly for District 3 wrestlers

Dallastown's Jarrett Feeney earns back points on Father Judge's Zachary Bayer during a 195-pound bout of a PIAA Team Wrestling Championships first-round match at Hershey's Giant Center on Thursday, Feb. 7. This weekend's District 3 Individual Championships were also originally slated for the Giant Center, but were moved to Hersheypark Arena to make way for a concert. John A. Pavoncello photo
  • The District 3 Individual Wrestling Championships are set for Friday and Saturday.
  • The event will be held at the Hersheypark Arena, which was built in 1936.
  • The event was originially slated for the Giant Center, built in 2002.

It might not be the venue the wrestlers dreamed of, but ultimately, that will matter little on Saturday if they have gold medals draped around their necks.

Dozens of York-Adams League athletes will converge on the “Old Barn” on Friday and Saturday for the District 3 Individual Wrestling Championships.

The “Old Barn,” for those who don’t know, is the somewhat-derisive, somewhat-endearing nickname given to the Hersheypark Arena, the historical (some say ancient) building constructed during the heart of the Great Depression in 1936. The 7,200-seat facility is best known as the arena where Wilt Chamberlain scored a record 100 points in a 1962 NBA game.

That was nearly six decades ago, however, and the “Old Barn” was already 26 years old at that point. Now the building is more than 80 years old and lacks the many modern amenities that fans, coaches and competitors have come to expect for big-time athletic events.

Getting the boot: This weekend’s district wrestling meet was originally set for just such a modern facility — the gleaming 10,500-seat Giant Center, which sits right next to the “Old Barn.” The Giant Center was built in 2002 and since then has hosted numerous marquee scholastic events, including the last two District 3 Individual Wrestling Championships.

The individual wrestling event, however, got the boot from the Giant Center in November to make room for a Luke Combs concert. Area country music fans are likely pretty happy about the switch. Wrestling fans ... well, not so much.

So, the District 3 wrestling community will have to settle for the “Old Barn” this weekend.

Most fans, coaches and wrestlers are no doubt unhappy with the move. When you get unceremoniously pushed aside, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re being treated like second-class citizens. The wrestlers are also being denied the opportunity to perform on the biggest, brightest athletic stage in central Pennsylvania.

Music trumps high school sports: Still, there’s no changing the venue.

The Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. has made the decision that the concert is a more valuable commodity than the wrestling tournament. That is certainly within the company’s rights, of course, but it still has to sting a bit for area wrestling supporters.  

At the Giant Center, music apparently trumps high school sports.

That became even more apparent in December, when the Giant Center pushed out three District 3 basketball title games scheduled for Friday, March 1, in order to host a Shinedown concert. The Class 6-A and 5-A girls' finals and the 6-A boys' championship contest are now set for Reading’s Santander Arena. The 5-A girls' final will start at 4:30 p.m., followed by the 6-A girls' final at 6:15 p.m. and the 6-A boys' final at 8 p.m.

At least the basketball folks will get to play in a modern, albeit smaller, facility. The 7,100-seat Santander Arena was built in 2001 and has very similar amenities to the Giant Center.

The wrestling folks, however, have no such luck. They’ll have to make do this weekend with the “Old Barn.”

Make the best of it: The best advice is just make the best of it. No matter the stage, the fans’ cheers will echo just as loudly and the wrestlers’ medals will shine just as brightly.

And there is one  consolation. For those wrestlers good enough and lucky enough to earn state berths, the big stage still awaits.

The PIAA Individual Wrestling Championships will be held at the Giant Center from March 7 to 9.

—Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.