The Kiski Area wrestling team has become an annual participant in the Manheim Holiday Christmas Tournament for more than the obvious reason.
"The tournament features 14 of the best teams in the state," Cavaliers coach Chuck Tursky said. "They have a waiting list of teams, so if we don't do well, we will not be invited back. It's a preview of the competition we will see at Hershey."
The Manheim Holiday Christmas Tournament will take place Dec. 27 and 28. Kiski Area will make its 10th consecutive appearance and will be joined by North Allegheny, the only other WPIAL participant.
"The thing I like the most about this tournament is the community support each of the teams receive," Tursky said. "Our kids stay with various parents from the Manheim School District. The families host two or three wrestlers and are responsible for them throughout the tournament.
"The families meet us at the high school the night before the tournament starts. The kids stay with their host family the entire weekend, except when they are on the mat. The host family also feeds them and provides transportation back and forth from the high school. The coaches stay at a local hotel."
The unusual setup provides a huge cost savings for each school.
"It really helps to cut the hotel bill," Tursky said. "But it's much more than that. The kids bond with the host families. We've had some kids stay with the same family four straight years.
"Some of my former wrestlers still keep in contact with their host families."
The host families are released from their duties after providing lodging for two nights.
"The morning of the final day of competition, the coaches, wrestlers, and host families meet at a local restaurant for breakfast after weigh-ins," Tursky said. "It's a great experience for the kids and the families. It's a high-level tournament with social benefits."
Kiski Area placed second in last year's tournament and is a threat to unseat Easton, the tournament's champion 12 of the past 13 years. The Cavaliers had three wrestlers advance to the Manheim tournament finals last year, and all three are back.
Penn State recruit Matt McCutcheon (6-0) is the defending champion at 195 pounds, while Cavaliers teammate Shane Kuhn (6-0) is the defending champ at 285. Kyle Skelly (5-1) returns at 152 after placing second last year.
"Our hope is to have at least three kids in the finals," Tursky said. "But the key to winning this tournament is to have good depth. We need a contibution from everybody to win the team title."
That's just what Tursky got at the Eastern Area Invitational, which took place Dec. 7 and 8 at Gateway High School. Kiski Area dominated the 18-team field, as 11 Cavaliers placed among the top six in their weight classes.
McCutcheon and Kuhn won titles, along with Cole Landowski (6-0), who won the 145-pound title. McCutcheon was making his fourth appearance in the finals and claimed his third title. Kuhn claimed his second crown.
"Our depth was the key," Tursky said. "Everybody made a contribution."
Skelly and Ryan Hardaway (5-1) were silver medalists at the Eastern Area Invitational.