This weekend, Harvey County will become a hub for high school wrestling — 52 schools of all sizes and hundreds of athletes will descend on Halstead and Newton in search of a championship.
It's tournament weekend. Halstead will host the 43rd annual Halstead Invitational, while Newton will host the 55th annual Tournament of Champions.
The Newton tournament is considered one of the top tournaments in the state — wrestling fans joke that it is harder to win a title in Newton than a state title. The numbers bear that out.
This year for the Tournament of Champions there will 16 ranked teams — including top-ranked teams in multiple classes. If that alone were not enough, there will be 102 ranked wrestlers — 24 of them the No. 1 ranked wrestler in their class.
According to trackwrestling.com, 29 schools have registered for the Halstead Invitational, all from classes 3A and smaller. More than a dozen ranked wrestlers are expected to compete at Halstead.
It's a big deal for each community — and for the county as a whole.
"It's Harvey County, and it is sales tax that we are collecting," said Pam Stevens, director of the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce. "If this wasn't here, we would feel the loss."
Stevens told The Kansan hotels are either full, or near full, in Newton — with 52 teams coming for two-day tournaments, this is a pretty big weekend for local hotels.
"These tournaments are huge for our communities," Stevens said. "People stay in our hotels, and that is bed tax. They eat in our restaurants and hopefully shop our retail. It is all outside money coming into our community."
This wrestling weekend, which usually coincides with Martin Luther King Day, has become a tradition that Stevens said the county is "lucky" to have, and people work hard to keep. She believes it would be a blow to the county if the tournament weekend ever ceased to exist.
"You lose hotels, restaurants and retail if you do not bring things in to support them," Stevens said. " ... We really are a big wrestling community and it is great that we have this."
The Newton Tournament of Champions will hit the mats at 9 a.m. Jan. 12. Halstead's Invitation will take to the mats at 4 p.m. Jan. 12. The finals for both tournaments will be Jan. 13.