Don't let wrestling tourney leave

The Kansas State High School Activities Association took a nearly $45,000 loss in the 5A and 6A state wrestling championships' move this year to Intrust Bank Arena, putting the location of next February's event in doubt. KSHSAA officials say their expenses were triple at the arena what they had been at the Kansas Coliseum.

But if the tournament leaves Sedgwick County for another venue and city viewed as more hospitable, the community will lose as a matter of pride as well as tourist dollars.

Arena management SMG and local leaders need to help make a deal — not just on the tournament but to ensure other events of significant community value can be held at the taxpayer-built and county-owned facility.

If the numbers can't be made to work for the wrestlers, then county leaders and sports and tourism officials should seek other accommodations that will keep the student athletes and their families coming to Sedgwick County. A KSHSAA official told The Eagle editorial board Monday that there had been discussion about a move to the private Hartman Arena.

If the problem is that no one organization has the authority or resources to try to hang onto such high school events and attract more, then the community needs to tackle that issue. KSHSAA events aren't the subject of bidding wars — at least not yet. But when a state or regional sporting event would like to come to Wichita but needs some financial incentive to do so, "Who is the one that's supposed to step up?" asked Bob Hanson, president and CEO of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission. Right now, that's unclear.

While it's great to see thousands of bowlers or square dancers come to Wichita or Sedgwick County from across the country, such visitors surely are less likely than fellow Kansans to schedule return trips. What's more, Kansas kids who had the experience of competing in Wichita may later view it as a good place to continue their education or pursue their career goals.

Obviously, with the wrestling championships drawing fewer than 7,000 people and gross ticket sales of $50,000, they don't get the attention in Wichita that they would in a midsize city. With just two classes of boys, the tournament doesn't rival the numbers for the state high school track meet at Wichita State University every May — the largest in the nation, with six classes of both boys and girls and a $750,000 economic impact. Yet even the wrestling tournament's $400,000 annual economic impact, according to Go Wichita, should be reason enough to fight for it to stay.

If the 5A and 6A state wrestling championships decide to go elsewhere for 2010, they might return to the downtown arena later. In 2008, for example, the 6A rounds were held at WSU's Koch Arena and 5A went to Hutchinson High School, before they both moved back to the Kansas Coliseum last year.

But it was great welcoming the wrestlers to downtown Wichita this February. It would be a shame if their first downtown tournament became their last.