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It’s not just birds that are flying south this winter.

A group of Wildcats will trek down south, too.

Well, 14 to be exact.

The Dallastown High School wrestling team is traveling to Kissimmee, Florida, this weekend for a tournament against some of the best high schools in the southeastern part of the country. The Wildcats’ 14 starters and coaches will spend their five days in the warm weather wrestling in the Knockout Christmas Classic, relaxing by the pool at their large house and at the area's theme parks.

“I like to travel with a team,” head coach Dave Gable said. “It gives us a unique opportunity to bond as a team and within our wrestling community. It’s also a way to get the kids to experience some things beyond wrestling.”

In his first stint with the Wildcats, Gable took two similar trips in the early 2000s to Reno, Nevada. This year, the team’s 14 starters, three coaches and two managers will go to the 40-team competition at Osceola High School.

“We wanted to do something similar,” he said. “We wanted to go somewhere with this group and have them experience travel together and the team bonding and good competition. We looked into the Reno tournament, but it was cost prohibitive and didn’t work with our schedule. We saw this tournament, which had a lot of good teams and seemed to be a well-respected tournament.”

Top-tier programs: While the competition Dallastown faces is strong in Pennsylvania, Gable said the teams participating are top-tier programs, including the defending state champion and/or runner-up in Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

“We are excited to go down and wrestle against people like that. It’s neat to wrestle against the top teams in other states,” Gable said. “Florida has really emerged over the last several years with some really talented wrestlers. Florida now has more and more wrestlers who are competing (in NCAA) Division I. When you look at high school rankings, you see more Florida kids who are at the top.”

The Dallastown wrestlers, of course, are pretty good in their own right. They're 2-0 in dual meets and expected to contend for the York-Adams League Division I championship. They've also performed well in a pair of prestigious invitationals, winning the 26-team Mule Classic at Solanco in Lancaster County and taking fourth at the 45-team Panthers Holiday Classic at Penn Cambria in Cambria County.

Unbeaten heavyweight Raymond Christas is leading the way, having won individual titles at both tournaments. 

Gable said he expects seeing different teams and wrestlers in Florida will help his team continue to improve this season.

“I think what makes the trip worthwhile is to see the competition from teams you typically wouldn’t,” Gable said. “It can get old to wrestle the same programs.”

The schedule: The team will fly out Thursday and get settled into a large house that will fit all 19 people. Many of the wrestlers’ families, Gable said, are travelling down and staying nearby.

“We rented a house together with a whole bunch of bedrooms and swimming pool, so we can enjoy the company of each other,” Gable said.

Weigh-ins and the first day of the tournament are Friday. The second and final day of competition is Saturday. On Sunday, the team will spend the day at the area's theme parks before heading back on Monday.

Alumni, sponsors step up: The trip was mostly paid for by alumni and sponsors, Gable said.

“It was people who believe in the program and what we are doing, and they wanted to give back,” Gable said. “I can’t express enough gratitude for the sponsors and alumni who made this trip possible.”

Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at jmeyer@yorkdispatch.com.

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