Everyone is on their feet as the National Anthem rings out in the Michael Imhoff Gymnasium of Hernando High School. This signifies the weigh-ins are complete, bouts were posted and grapplers were about to take the mat, The 39th Annual Kiwanis Invitational is underway.
39 years ago Coach Ken Pritz began this tournament with only 8 teams attending. “Brandon (High School) won the tournament that year,” Mr. Pritz said. The next year they doubled in size to 16 teams. This year’s Invitational was set to host 25 teams but had one team back out at the last minute. It was a smaller turnout of teams than last year or even the year before, but those numbers still set the stage for some intense grappling matches.
Covid altered the sport, taking valuable practice time away due to closures of schools and their activities, causing individuals, as well as whole teams, to have to quarantine. This has caused not only an impact on team attendance but the attendance of spectators as well. Due to current school regulations, it was deemed best to restrict those entering the gym to safely stay beneath the maximum number of people allowed in the building. This wasn’t the only major difference, Face masks and fist bumps would be taking the place of handshakes and sincere expressions, at least for now.
Returning Champion, Hernando Leopards would prepare to face some tough competition from schools like last year’s State 2A Dual Team Champions, Jesuit out of Tampa, and local in-county rival, Springstead, who has won this tournament several times since the tournament began. Hernando would ultimately come up short. Jesuit would take first with 297 team points followed by Hernando with 176. Springstead would finish 4th with 147.
The county as a whole would begin the tournament with 35 grapplers from Hernando High, Springstead, and Weeki Wachee Schools competing and would end the weekend with 16 competitors placing. Dominic Nardini 106lbs for Springstead Eagles and Matthew Kovalskiy 195lbs for Weeki Wachee Hornets would be the only two first-place winners for the county. Our county wrestlers would however bring home a total of 12 other medals; For the Hernando Leopards Rodier at 120lb- 3rd place, Fetzner at 170lbs – 2nd place, Romain at 182lbs- 3rd place, Ahne at 195lbs- 2nd place, Spellman at 220lbs- 2nd place, Fleming at 285lbs- 2nd place. For The Springstead Eagles Dominguez 113lbs- 2nd place, Josh Gallo 126lbs- 3rd place, Joe Gallo 145 lbs- 3rd place, Curl 285lbs- 3rd place. Billy Fetzner and Samuel Fleming of Hernando, Dominic Nardini and Jonathan Dominguez of Springstead, as well as Aidan Mayberry of Weeki Wachee, are all last year State Qualifiers who are well on their way to make another run to compete at this year’s State Tournament.