Dave Conaway had an idea, which to those who know him, wasn’t exactly breaking news.
Conaway, the head wrestling coach at New Oxford, seemingly has an endless supply of ideas – and energy – when it comes to grappling. This particular idea was to host an eight-team dual meet tournament, bringing in a handful of the toughest teams he could find. After some final calculations and a fine sales pitch, Conaway’s grand scheme became a reality.
The year was 1995, and the New Oxford Wrestling Tournament was officially born.
Conaway, often confused for a mad scientist when it comes to tweaking ideas and formulating new plans, has tugged, twisted and pulled with the tournament format, resulting in what we now have: a 20-team tourney, run over two days on eight mats in two gyms at the high school.
There will also be a JV tournament taking place, meaning the Ox will host nearly two full days of non-stop wrestling.
Sounds crazy to some; makes nothing but sense to Conaway.
“I’ve always believed you’re only as good as the competition you wrestle,” he said. “You need a couple things on your schedule that are tough. Our whole goal is to get better every year and tough competition makes you push yourself. We wanted to bring great wrestling into New Oxford to see the caliber of wrestling that is out there.”
Conaway has delighted in the fact that he’s been able to land some of the top teams and wrestlers, including Class AAA juggernaut Central Dauphin the last few years. While the Rams won’t be on hand this weekend, the shelves are still well-stocked at the Ox. Included in the 20-team mix is Blue Mountain, Line Mountain, Altoona and Pittsburgh Central Catholic, to name a few.
“I’m not in it to win it, where we set something up that I can blow through,” said Conaway. “This way people get to see good wrestling and we get better from it.”
As usual, there will be a bevy of top-ranked individuals gracing the mats at the Ox, including Line Mountain’s Zain Retherford, last year’s PIAA-AA 103 champ. Retherford is part of a triumvirate at 112 that includes Hempfield’s Austin Miller and New Oxford senior Jordan Conaway. Miller placed second at 103 in the AAA state tourney last year, while Conaway was third.
Conaway and Miller have gone bump in the night on more than a few occasions, and are expected to collide yet again this weekend.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Dave Conaway said.
Other returning state medalists expected to compete at New Oxford include Blue Mountain’s Corey Keener (125) and Brandon Choate (130), Delaware Valley’s C.J. Palmer (125), Pittsburgh Central Catholic’s Lorenzo Thomas (152) and Susquehanna Township’s Averee Robinson (285).
“The tournament in the last two years has gotten extremely tough,” said Conaway. “We like to wrestle (teams) outside of District 3 because it makes your kids more-rounded wrestlers. We really like what we’re doing.”
Schools scheduled to compete at New Oxford include: Altoona, Bellefonte, Blue Mountain, CD East, Conestoga Valley, Delaware Valley, Harrisburg, Hempfield, Lampeter-Strasburg, Line Mountain, Mechanicsburg, Norristown, Penn Manor, Philipsburg-Osceola, Pleasant Valley, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Punxsutawney, Susquehanna Twp. and Warwick.
Action begins at 4 p.m. today with pool competition, and resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday with eight-man brackets at each weight. Conaway estimated that medal matches would begin at approximately noon Saturday, with finals getting under way between 4-5 p.m.
Prior to the start of the finals, New Oxford will honor its 100-match winners. According to Conaway, Jarrod Adams, Justin Adams, Steve Zinn and Jason Zinn will be in attendance, as will former Colonial head coach Frank Pannebaker.
There will also be a brief recognition of all former Colonial wrestlers in attendance.
DOUBLEHEADER AT DELONE: A trio of Times Area teams will converge at McSherrystown Saturday morning in what amounts to a twinbill for the Squires.
Delone will face Biglerville at 11 a.m., then square off with Littlestown at 1 p.m. The Squires were forced to move the Littlestown match because of snow, and schools are required to complete their division schedules by Saturday night.
CAN SCHUYLKILL VALLEY MAKE IT?: A lot of eyes are turned toward Berks County, where two-time defending District 3-AA team champ Schuylkill Valley is scrambling in an attempt to make the field for this year’s tourney. The Panthers stumbled a bit out of the gate with three losses in their first seven matches, and have been behind the eight-ball ever since.
The Panthers (9-3), who ranked 10th the latest set of D3-AA team tourney power ratings (the top 8 teams qualify), bolstered their chances with a 48-31 win over visiting Hamburg (13-4) Thursday night.
Schuylkill Valley can also make up a lot of ground this weekend at the Berks County Team Tournament, where it will open as the top Class AA squad in the eight-team field.
Heading into this week, Schuylkill Valley (.600959) trailed No. 8 Susquenita (.641069) and No. 9 Newport (.616745).
Susquenita (14-5) will be at the Northern Lebanon Duals Saturday, which could result in a handful of wins considering the field includes Berwick (16-9), Coatesville (6-8), Northern Lebanon (4-9), Tulpehocken (1-25) and William Penn (0-4).
Newport improved to 16-6 with a 57-18 win over Fairfield Thursday, and has no dual meets left on its schedule.
Josh Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.