Willie Saylor, Editor
A big Hi-Five to all parties involved.
Blair Academy (NJ), the #1 team in the country in our Preseason Rankings, was part of a multiple-stage process as several governing bodies worked to validate their eligibility for this year's Walsh Ironman, the nation's toughest in-season event.
Despite competing in the last 18 previous Ironman tournaments, Blair was not approved for the Ironman when the initial sanctioning document for the tournament was released by the National Federation of High School Associations on Friday, November 15th.
The issue ostensibly stemmed from the official start date for New Jersey, as set by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, that prescribes December 20th as the earliest date a New Jersey school can participate in an official event.
However, Blair is just a federated member of the NJSIAA and doesn't particpate in their championship season. Further complicating matters was that the NFHS recognizes just one governing body per state. Blair's primary governing body is the New Jersey Association of Indepenent Schools, whom the NFHS does not consult with during sanctioning.
Elliot Hopkins, an NFHS official familiar with the sanctioning process, informed Flowrestling that a state (or states) objected to Blair's eligibility to the Ironman, resulting in them being blocked from competing there.
There was no shortage of finger pointing. Some blamed certain individuals with a grudge, others pointed to the red tape of any process that has to go through large goverment.
But in the end, the desired outcome became a reality.
Last Friday, the NJSIAA sent official documentation to the NFHS detailing Blair's compliance of the same state regulations of all other NJSIAA schools. And yesterday the sanctioning document on the NFHS website indicated Blair was approved for the Ironman.
Today, both Blair Academy and Walsh Ironman officials confirmed the NFHS decision and Blair's inclusion at this year's tournament.
Ironman Tournament Director, Bob Preusse is happy the process is over and says there were many misconceptions.
"After several weeks of wondering how to overcome this bureaucratic mess, common sense prevailed and Blair was approved to compete. Walsh Jesuit wanted them in. And contrary to rumors, no single school had objected to Blair. After all thats why teams enter the Ironman-- for the competition."
The Ironman has been regarded as the best in-season tournament in the country since its inception in 1994 when it became the first event that brought together a truly national field.
Althouh it's tough to identify superlatives in a tournament that has such a long history of top teams and individuals, this year's tournament may be one of the best ever. Seven of the Top 10 in the country will be competing this year.
"I'm relieved at the decision," Blair Head Coach Solomon Fleckman said. "We have fourteen kids that have looked forward to competing at Ironman for as long as they can remember. That's the most important thing."
When asked what he thought during the sanctioning investigation, Solomon says the school was always optimistic.
"In the end, we thought we'd be allowed to compete. We always have been. Blair's in compliance with everything the same way we always have been. We haven't changed anything in the way our program operates in twenty years."
All that's left is the wrestling at the biggest show in high school's regular season.
Let the games begin!