CHAPEL HILL — Two days after Christmas, wrestlers from across North Carolina and beyond will gather at Chapel Hill High School for the annual Tiger Holiday Classic.
Known to most wrestlers in the Triangle as just “The Tiger,” the tournament is a winter tradition, with an almost family reunion feel for area teams and top individuals.
Originally held in Durham as the Bull Durham Holiday Classic, the event moved in 1994 to Chapel Hill High School and into the care of Coach Tripp Price.
This year’s tournament will be held Friday-Saturday, drawing 32 visiting teams to Chapel Hill.
“It will be nice,” said Price. “It’s a great way to get ready for states and regionals.”
Price will bring his top-ranked CHHS team into this year’s tournament with considerable momentum.
The Tigers are 11-0 in dual meets this season, posting a 4-0 mark within the Big Eight. The team is also perfect in tournaments, having won both the Mount Pleasant Invitational and the Croatan Beast of the East tournament.
Past successes offer no guarantees for the Tiger Classic, though, and according to Coach Price, no one team has had perennial success in the tournament over the course of its history.
“Orange is a powerhouse, traditionally,” says Price, “but the tournament is very, very competitive.”
The competitive nature of the tournament and its history make it a draw for schools beyond local stalwarts like Orange, Cedar Ridge, East Chapel Hill and Hillside.
Chattahoochie High School, a 17-1 squad from Georgia, will join three more out-of-staters: Clay (Fla.), Spring Valley (S.C.) and Galax (Va.)
By including quality teams, even from outside of North Carolina, Price keeps the Tiger tournament highly competitive.
Piedmont, wrestling out of Charlotte, is another “consistently highly ranked” team that Price expects to compete for the tournament title.
The out-of-state teams are harder to scout, according to Price, and even a team’s overall record, individual results and injury reports can sometimes be harder to come by.
The teams from inside the state range from 1A (like Chatham Central and Durham Voyager) through 4A (Green Hope and East Chapel Hill).
That provides all the wrestlers with a “good opportunity to see some outside competition,” according to Price, something they’ll find valuable if they make it to the state’s post-season tournaments.
Undefeated Chatham Central gives the Tiger at least four of the News & Observer’s top 15-ranked teams. Chapel Hill is ranked No. 2, Orange No. 4, Chatham Central No. 11 and Carrboro No. 13.
In addition to continuing the momentum his Tigers squad has cultivated over the season, Price is looking to the tournament as a return for some wrestlers who have missed time.
“We’ve been fighting injuries,” says Price, who has been without four starters for Chapel Hill’s most recent matches.
However, all starters are expected back for the Tiger, meaning that Price’s undefeated squad will finally be “back at full strength” — a potentially scary thought for the competition.
Overall, 33 teams, including CHHS, will compete at the Tiger, which begins Friday, Dec, 27, at 9 a.m. at Chapel Hill High School. The second day of wrestling will begin Saturday at 8:30, with finals tentatively set to start at 2 p.m.
Tickets cost $15 for a two-day tournament pass, $10 daily. Tickets to the finals only will cost $5.