Wrestling will take center stage in Newton this weekend, as the high school is getting ready to host the 54th annual Tournament of Champions, welcoming in teams from around the state for one of the most competitive meets of the year outside of the state tournament.
"This tournament is one of the premiere regular season tournaments for the state of Kansas when it comes to wrestling," said Newton athletic director Brian Becker. "Really, competition-wise, it's one that a lot of schools want to be a part of because it gives them one of their first true tests of what the competition's going to be like for state."
Around town, NHS wrestling coach Tommy Edgmon noted he routinely gets stopped and asked about the Tournament of Champions.
Edgmon admitted he didn't truly understand the scope of the tournament and how involved the community gets until he joined the coaching staff, and it is something he has been pleased to see, especially for his wrestlers.
"Just to wrestle in that atmosphere, with that much support for our wrestlers, is good," Edgmon said. "It kind of gives them that extra drive that they wouldn't have going to an opposing school where there's not as many fans and their friends around."
On top of being motivated to put on a good show for the home crowd, Edgmon noted the level of competition makes for a great tournament as well. State contenders (like Norton and Garden City) routinely make the trip to Newton for the TOC, with teams even coming from as far as Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado in the past.
Keeping competition in state this year, teams competing at the Tournament of Champions this weekend will include Andover, Andover Central, Arkansas City, Bishop Carroll, Blue Valley Southwest, Derby, Dodge City, Emporia, Gardner Edgerton, Holton, Hutchinson, Junction City, Lawrence, Leavenworth, Maize, Maize South, Manhattan, McPherson, Newton, Norton, Olathe Northwest, Olathe South, Valley Center, Wichita East, Wichita Heights, Wichita Northwest, Wichita South and Winfield.
Bringing that many teams into the community, the tournament also has a larger impact on Newton outside of the competitive benefits and the spectacle of the event.
"Obviously, bringing wrestling teams, plus families, plus fans, from 28 different schools into town for a two-day tournament means that we're filling hotel rooms and people are coming and they're spending money in our community, so obviously that's a financial benefit to us," said Melody Spurney of the Newton Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Last year, gate receipts alone for the tournament totaled around $7,000, according to Becker, and the event always draws a sizable crowd. Indirectly, those funds help all of the NHS athletics programs, while profits from concessions over the weekend act as a direct fundraiser for wrestling.
Spectators aren't the only ones that show up, either, as the high school gets a lot of help in making the tournament run. Becker noted there are around 50 to 60 workers involved that help things go smoothly over the weekend.
For everyone involved there are some positives to take from the experience, with Becker noting the caliber of the competition is impressive and he is glad the high school has the opportunity to host events like the Tournament of Champions.
"People just associate Newton and Newton athletics specifically with these marquee events," Becker said. "It really sheds what I consider a very positive light on our programs, our school, on our community and the community always rallies around these types of events to support in any way that they possibly can."
"It's not just about the economic impact, which is very important," Spurney said, "it also gives those from outside the Newton area a chance to experience our community in a way that perhaps they would not have otherwise."
Competition at this year's Tournament of Champions will start at 9 a.m. on Friday.