Shortly after last year’s tournament, and aware that they hadn’t prepared for its potential magnitude, the Indiana Wrestling Boosters sprouted a plan to keep the Flo Nationals wrestling tournament an annual event at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
The boosters, along with a group of local wrestling enthusiasts, concluded that in order to keep the event local, they’d need to confirm that area hotels and restaurants could accommodate the massive influx of visitors the tournament attracts.
Thanks to the combined efforts of Indiana High School wrestling coach Tony Donatelli and a large clan of boosters members, the Flo Nationals tournament will take place at the KCAC for the second straight year this weekend.
One of the most prestigious tournaments in the country will attract wrestlers from 49 states, all looking to capture a national title in the college-rules tournament that begins Friday.
The fifth annual installment of the event will start with the high school tournament at 9 a.m. Friday. The championship round of the high school tournament will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday, and the middle school and elementary school tournaments will begin at 10 a.m. Sunday.
All wrestlers must pay a $54 fee to enter. Tickets will be on sale at the gate for $40.
Last year’s event attracted more than 1,200 wrestlers. Although registration has yet to close, tournament coordinators are expecting an even larger turnout this year.
“The booster program got a taste of it last year so we expect things to go much smoother this time around,” Donatelli said. “I got Mark (Kunselman) and Heather (Marcozzi) working with Flo, and everyone has just done a great job. Mark, Heather and Ed (Marcozzi) are three of the big reasons Flo came back to Indiana.
“Last year we had a pile of kids from 48 states that couldn’t find hotel rooms here, so they had to stay in Pittsburgh. But since last year’s event, Mark and Heather have been on the hotels and restaurants, making sure that they have the rooms and the space to accommodate these kids and their families. Those two have really done a great job at preparing the town for the mass quantity of visitors heading our way.”
Along with several other volunteers, Donatelli and members of the Indiana Wrestling Boosters will aid the Flowrestling crew with admissions, weigh-ins, scoring and videotaping, among other duties.
Heather Marcozzi, a boosters’ member since 2008, admitted that she didn’t mind clocking countless hours of preparation work for a nationally recognized tournament that could benefit Indiana County for years to come.
“A lot of good things happen in Indiana, but to have something this big in our backyard is just amazing,” Marcozzi said. “I can’t think of another high school sporting event being this big of a deal. This isn’t a rock concert or Sesame Street On Ice, and there’s no such thing as the Super Bowl in wrestling, but in high school, a national title is the most impressive accolade a wrestler can get. Plus plenty of big-name college scouts and recruiters will be there. Basically the who’s who of wrestling will be in Indiana.”
Kunselman volunteered alongside dedicated boosters’ members such as Nichole Sipos. Kunselman essentially echoed Marcozzi’s unselfish sentiments by saying: “We just really want people to know that some of these kids will go on to become NCAA champions and Olympians and they’ll be wrestling right up Route 22 this weekend. (Pitt Johnstown wrestling coach) Pat Pecora always said, ‘You don’t have to travel far out of Westmoreland County to find the best wrestlers in the country.’ Now that Flo’s in Indiana, a lot of the best kids in Pennsylvania don’t have to travel far to see some of their best competition.”
The following area wrestlers registered to compete as of Wednesday: Derry’s Cole Wano (113 pounds) and Micky Phillippi (120); Blairsville’s Drew Doak (160); Kiski School’s Justin Patrick (120); Ligonier Valley’s Carlos Chavez (106); Marion Center’s Isaac Stewart (145); and Punxsutawney’s Kaleb Young (138).
Phillippi and Patrick represent the area’s lone two returning placewinners from last year’s tournament.
Phillippi, a sophomore who won the PIAA Class AA tournament last year at 113 and placed third this year at 120, took sixth at 113 at last year’s Flo Nationals.
The senior Patrick transferred to Kiski School this season after placing fourth in the PIAA Class AA tournament in his sophomore and junior campaigns at Ligonier Valley. Patrick placed eighth at 113 at last year’s Flo Nationals.