The ‘King’ is here as Wildcat wrestling pride shines

There are few events in Clinton County that attract the kind of attention, enthusiasm and crowds like the King of the Mountain wrestling tournament.

Starting today, wrestlers from 32 high schools — plus their family and fans — will gather at Central Mountain High School for the 18th annual KOM tournament.

How “big” is the KOM?

Consider that, in 2015, the tourney attracted nearly 30 PIAA state finalists, including many wrestlers who would go on to become Pennsylvania state champions or runners-up.

Wow … that’s impressive and among the reasons why the King of the Mountain has become one of the premiere high school wrestling tournaments in the East.

Put on by the Central Mountain High School Wildcat Wrestling Booster Club, this tournament fills up virtually every hotel room in the county.

Holiday high school wrestling tournaments go back decades in Clinton County, reflecting the deep commitment to and pride in the sport here.

Yes, wrestling is “King” here … and one need only to go to a home meet and try to find a seat in the CM gymnasium.

This modest tournament started in about 1999 with 12 teams, thanks to the leadership of the late Sam Arnone.

Today, 30-plus teams come to town for this nationally-recognized competition, with local Dr. Thane Turner serving as Booster Club president.

Tournament director and retired educator Norm Palovcsik gives all the credit to the Booster Club, and points out Lynn Gray at Lock Haven University as someone who does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, along with booster club officers and volunteers.

Gray, he added, is among the “women at head table” of the tournament who do a lot of the work.

“This is very special for the community,” Palovscik said. “The visitors eat at most of the restaurants and I’m telling you virtually every hotel room is booked so it works economically … no doubt.”

“From the Hampton Inn to the Comfort Inn to Best Western and Marriott, I don’t think there’s a vacant hotel room in this community right now.”

Craig Phillips, a field reporter for the Pennsylvania Wrestling Roundup magazine, says KOM fans can expect more of the same high-quality wrestling this year when the some of the top teams and individuals in Pennsylvania meet for the two-day battle on the mat.

A year ago, he reports, 12 state champions and eight runners-up emerged from the 33-team field. Eight wrestlers placed either third or fourth in the PIAA Championships for a total of 27 matmen finishing in the top four. Twenty-two others finished fifth-through-eighth to give the tournament a yield of 49 PIAA medals. Returning to this year’s tournament are state champions Cameron Coy of Penn Trafford, Jacob Oliver of Huntingdon and Cole Nye of Bishop McDevitt. Coy is a returning King of the Mountain champion, along with teammate Job Chishko, Jakob Campbell of Boyertown, Austin DeSanto of Exeter Township and Zack Trampe of Council Rock South.

Trampe, Phillips said, is a former PIAA state runner-up along with DeSanto, Seneca Valley’s Louis Newell, Kollin Myers of Boiling Springs, John Pipa of Bishop McDevitt, Trent Hidlay of Mifflin County and the Bishop McCort duo of Anthony Walters and Josiah Jones, who finished second a year ago for Westmont Hilltop.

“That’s firepower,” Phillips wrote.

New to the tournament this year are Bishop McCort, Bethel Park, Chestnut Ridge, Northern Lebanon, Upper Darby, Saegertown and Big Spring. Returning after a hiatus are Fort LeBoeuf, Spring Grove and Williamsport.

Phillips said teams expected to challenge for the title are Council Rock South with three returning PIAA medalists and four state qualifiers, Bishop McDevitt with three medalists and five qualifiers, Boyertown with one medalist and five qualifiers and Chestnut Ridge with three medalists.

“The tournament will be a wide open affair,” said Palovcsik. “Ten to twelve teams could have a legitimate shot at winning this team title.”

The extensive number of teams vying for the title will make the opening rounds packed with excitement as the contenders position themselves for a run at top honors Joining the aforementioned teams in the field will be Bellefonte, WPIAL Class AA team favorite Burrell, Exeter Township, General McLane, Greater Latrobe, Mifflin County, Northern York, Owen J. Roberts, Seneca Valley, South Western, West Chester Henderson and host Central Mountain, said Phillips.

New to the field individually are Super 32 Classic champion Brian Kennerly of Upper Darby and runner-up Nino Bonaccorsi of Bethel Park.

The Super 32 is a national tournament in Greensboro, N.C., featuring some of the most accomplished wrestlers in the country. The King of the Mountain will also be a reunion of sorts for members of the Middle Atlantic Wrestling Association and Young Guns teams.

The two met in the finals of the AAU National Duals at Orlando, Fla., this past summer with MAWA claiming the championship.

Members of the MAWA team set to compete are DeSanto and Nye while Coy, Bonaccorsi, Chestnut Ridge’s Justin McCoy and both Walters and Jones of Bishop McCort represented Young Guns.

The KOM tournament features 20 Class AAA teams and 10 Class AA teams, half of which will be considered contenders for the Class AA state crown.

That’s quality wrestling.

Congratulations, Booster Club, for working so hard to grow Wildcat pride!