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Snow forces changes

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

The winter storm blanketing western Kansas is changing the well-laid plans of high school wrestlers and their fans this weekend.

With the Class 3-2-1A state tournament set to start Friday, and schools throughout the region closing Wednesday in response to a winter storm, some wrestlers and coaches were making itinerary changes.

On Wednesday afternoon, Hays USD 489, along with dozens of western Kansas schools, announced school was canceled for today, not waiting until this morning.

Tony Watts and his family braved the wintry conditions hitting the area as they left a day early from their home in Montezuma to make their way to Hays to watch the state wrestling tournament.

The drive took approximately three hours before the bulk of the storm hit, Watts said as he unloaded his family and vehicle at Holiday Inn Express & Suites north of town.

Early today, the National Weather Service in Dodge City said snowfall was heaviest in Ellis and Trego counties, which saw preliminary reports ranging from 8 to 11 inches. Farther west, some counties received less than an inch of snow.

"Even if it would keep snowing just like this, it would have been tough (to make it to Hays today)," Watts said about the drive mid-day Wednesday as the storm settled in.

Watts' son, senior Caleb Watts, is competing in the 195-pound bracket at state Friday and Saturday.

He said the team left earlier than his family Wednesday.

Zach Gienger, a senior competing in the 182-pound bracket, and his coach, Dylan Loyd, headed for Hays from St. Francis early Wednesday morning.

"We want to make sure he gets there," said St. Francis USD 297 Principal Scott Carmichael.

Cheerleaders and other fans plan to head for Hays at approximately 7 a.m. Friday morning, Carmichael said, giving them a few extra traveling hours to make the opening of the tournament, which was moved back two hours to noon.

"We'll get there somehow," Carmichael said, laughing. "We still have horses and draft teams here."

Wrestlers from Marysville also left for Hays a day earlier than they normally would have, hitting the road Wednesday morning after a pep rally, according to a Marysville USD 364 staff member.

Checking availability of hotel and motel rooms Wednesday morning, Jana Jordan, Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau director, said the rooms were filling fast. Thursday and Friday accommodations were expected to be scarce to non-existent.

"We are sold out (today) because it is state wrestling on Friday morning," Jordan said. "So I understand a lot of wrestlers and coaches are trying to get to Hays today so at least they'll be in town."

Ellis County Emergency Management Director Bill Ring said the lack of accommodations might result in opening a shelter for travelers.

"That's always been the contingency," he said. "We try to let the motels and hotels fill up first."