Wrestling teams from Plaquemine, Brusly and other teams in south Louisiana will have a much shorter drive to the state championship tournament beginning next year.
The Louisiana High School Athletic Association approved a measure that will move the state meet to the Raising Cane’s River Center in Baton Rouge after a five-year run at the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City.
The move puts the meet in closer proximity to the Interstate 10 corridor cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette and their surrounding areas, home to many of Louisiana’s most successful high school mat programs.
“The LHSAA finally listened, and we’ve got it where it should be,” said Brusly head coach Jimmy Bible, who has coached the team to 12 of the 13 state championships the program has won since 1996. “With the majority of schools in the southern part of the state, the fan base suffered because of the five-hour drive.”
The CenturyLink Center has hosted the event since 2015, after fan interest in the state meet outgrew the 3,600-seat capacity of the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, which became the host arena in the late 1990s.
The move to northwest Louisiana made it difficult for the event to draw from the sport’s largest fan base.
Bible believes the 12,000-seat capacity of The River Center and the close proximity from many high-profile teams will spark larger attendance for the two-day event.
“People con come up to Baton Rouge, watch the event, go home and come back the next day, or they can take advantage of the many great hotels in the area,” he said. “We will have a lot of fan support and I think we will do a really good job here.”
In an article in The Shreveport Times, city officials argued that the CenturyLink Center – which opened in 2000 – was a far more modern facility than the River Center, which opened in 1977.
“Baton Rouge is the best place for the tournament – it’s a great facility, contrary to what some people believe,” he said.
Bible said he is not opposed to Bossier City hosting the meet every few years.
“They did a great job with the tournament, and I can’t say anything bad about it,” he said. “But it needs to be in the southern part of the state.”