When Pat Dowty was in high school in the mid- and late-1990s, a wrestler from Johnson County didn’t make it to the state finals without excelling at the Seymour Semistate first.
It made perfect geographical sense, with Franklin, for instance, being only 43 miles away.
Then the IHSAA elected to move the south semistate to Evansville. Just like that, bus and car rides for local coaches, athletes and fans got a whole heck of a lot longer.
“That semistate had been at Seymour for a long time, but the IHSAA likes to throw Evansville a bone every now and then, and I think that’s what happened here,” said Center Grove coach Cale Hoover. “I know it’s a longer trip, but it doesn’t bother me. The kids like having an overnight trip. They look forward to it.”
The Evansville Semistate is hosted by Reitz High School and takes place Saturday at the 11,000-seat Ford Center, which opened November 2011. It had previously taken place at Roberts Stadium, which opened in 1956 and is currently in the process of being demolished.
Evansville, which since 1986 has produced 12 state championship teams (all by Evansville Mater Dei High School) and 23 individual titlists, prides itself as a wrestling hotbed. Mater Dei entered postseason competition ranked No. 5 in Class 3A, while Evansville Memorial held down the No. 3 spot in 2A.
“I do like the venue they have in Evansville,” said Dowty, who wrestled at Franklin Community High School for coach Bob Hasseman and is now the second-year coach at Indian Creek. “What we do is practice that Friday for an hour and 20 minutes or so and then drive down, which gets the kids prepared. I know they’re in bed by 9:30 because I’m checking on them.”
Both similarities and slight differences exist in the way Center Grove and Indian Creek approach the Evansville Semistate.
In Hoover’s case, members of his program are dismissed from school at 1:30 p.m. Friday. After checking into their motel the Trojans traditionally practice for an hour at nearby Castle High School before grabbing a pasta dinner a local restaurant.
It’s light’s out at 10 p.m. because of the earliness associated with check-ins, weigh-ins, meetings, etc., the following morning. Indian Creek’s semistate qualifiers will bring their own food to consume the night before competition.
Just earning the right to wrestle in Evansville is challenging enough. Thirty Johnson County athletes will be attempting to do so by finishing in the top four in their respective weight classes at Saturday’s Mooresville Regional.
It marks the second straight weekend inside the Pioneers’ gymnasium. At last week’s sectional, Class 3A No. 3 Franklin won the team title on the strength of seven individual champions, followed by Center Grove (three). Indian Creek (two) took fifth overall.
Regardless of how many local grapplers keep their seasons alive, the Evansville road trip is one that is embraced rather than dreaded. And to think the New Castle Semistate (68 miles one way) would have been a much quicker drive.
“In all honesty, the roughest part about Evansville is the drive home,” Hoover said. “As far as everything else goes, we look at it as fun.”