More than 40-thousand fans are expected to crowd into Vets Auditorium in downtown Des Moines for the high-school wrestling tournament that begins tomorrow and runs through Saturday night. Those fans will have to negotiate through the road construction zone along the Des Moines freeway. David Harty with the Iowa High School Athletic Association says the wrestling tournament is even bigger than the boys’ or girls’ state basketball tournaments.

By the time it’s all done, Harty says they’ll have counted between 80 and 85-thousand paid admissions, and “fan-wise, it’ll be the biggest push you have all year,” at least as far as traffic’s concerned. With construction on the new Iowa Events Center surrounding Vets Auditorium, it’s likely to be even more confusing than usual.

Harty says Thursday and Friday events begin at 9 A.M. so fans arriving early along with tournament workers will share the morning commute on the city’s freeway, the planners’ biggest concern along with parking in general. But Harty says they won’t be able to count on all the fans arriving and staying for the whole day’s events. Whereas in a basketball game you have a halftime break, Harty says “In a wrestling tournament it’s always halftime.” He explains people come to see their favorite team or wrestlers and then they go, so people are coming and going all the time. Though the auditorium seats about 12-thousand, he says each day of the wrestling tournament they may have 18-thousand people or more in all go through it. They only come to see a part of it, like the Class 1A, 2A oor 3A, or a kid from their school or a local team –then they leave, so Harty says “That turnstile is goin’ all the time.”

Harty says there are 224 schools in the state tournament that have one or more wrestler in the tournament…and even those with few players bring a great following. Traffic managers in Des Moines hope to spare visitors confusion and cope with all the cars by offering tips and maps for parking and getting around the construction. This is the last year any of the tournaments are held at Vets — in the future they’ll be in the Iowa Events Center, a complex that will include an auditorium, Hall of Fame, and more. Of special concern: the times between sessions.

Expect lots of extra traffic downtown and on the freeway from about 4:30 to 6:30 P.M. Wednesday, 4:15 til 6:30 P.M. Thursday and 3:30 to 6:30 P.M. on Friday as fans travel between Vets’ and other locations. Also, traffic will be heavier than usual from the 8 to 9 o’clock hour both Thursday and Friday morning.