Hundreds of athletes and spectators didn’t let a few raindrops — or even a passing thundershower — chase them away from the first ever “Wrestling Under The Lights” tournament, held June 29 at Gator Field in Port Allegany.
Conceived as a fundraiser for the Gator football program, the tourney drew just shy of 200 entrants in youth and adult divisions, hailing from both the local area and every corner of the state (and even a couple from across the border in New York.)
“When we heard about it, we were intrigued, so we decided to try it,” said Bill Carr, part of a sizable ‘Crossface Crew’ that drove all the way from Allentown. Other hometowns mentioned by announcer Denny Bloss ranged from Port to Reading to Bermudian Springs, making it sound more like the state tournament than a random Saturday afternoon in June.
Four mats were in action throughout the afternoon, with volunteers manning the scoring tables and standing by with brooms and squeegees to get everything back up and running after the occasional shower. The area around the concession stand looked more like a small county-fair food court, with chicken barbeques, kettle corn, fresh-squeezed lemonade and some Mobile Fresca offerings available in addition to the usual burgers, hot dogs and pizza.
“This was definitely a group effort. We had many ideas for fundraising and wanted to do something different. We thought about a ‘regular’ tournament but then came up with the outdoor idea,” said Erica Petruzzi, one of the lead organizers of the event. “With the help of the varsity wrestling team, the junior wrestling teams and the McKean County Muddawgs wrestling team, we knew we had the equipment and help to run the tournament. The rest just came together....
“We were able to plan for the weather and had back up plans ready. The turnout was amazing. We learned a few things to make a few changes for next year, but think it can become a very fun annual event!”
Justin Bienkowski, beginning his second stint as the varsity head football coach, described the scene as “awesome” after climbing to the top deck of the press box to take a picture.
“Anyone that would be willing to lend a hand has lent a hand. Parents, siblings of athletes, friends of parents of kids, anybody that has heard of it and has been asked to help has helped. It couldn’t have happened without that,” he said. “Erica Petruzzi spearheaded it, but she’d be the first to tell you that there were so many helping hands. The school, Mr. Budd, Mr. Buchsen, the custodial staff. The group of parents we have in our program right now are wonderful. Coaches, coaches’ wives. Tireless efforts by a lot of people. I don’t want to list names, because I don’t want anybody to get missed and be upset. Everybody chimed in with a couple different ideas — try this, try that, do this, do that — and here we are.”
Mentioning that several former football players also competed in the adult division, he added, “That’s the other thing in that story, the cooperation between the football and wrestling programs. I was telling Josh Rees and D.J. Michelitsch this when we were driving down from getting the mats this morning at the elementary school, ‘This is why you work together in a small school.’
“I guess I have to be the name on the thing because I’m the head football coach, but I relied heavily on the people who have varsity and Junior Olympic wrestling tournament experience. Setting up brackets, setting up mats. Stopwatches and scoreboards and pop-up tents, it goes on and on. This doesn’t happen without B.J. Greenman and Chad Saltsman and the wrestling program, doesn’t happen without us and the football program, doesn’t happen without the parents and the school community. It’s been great because it’s promoting football, it’s promoting wrestling. People are talking about both. It’s great to see for the community, to be honest with you. This is a Port Allegany thing. Not just the football program, not just the wrestling program, it’s Port Allegany. That’s great.”