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Good hosts: Big events benefit whole community

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2011

There were more winners at the Class 1-2-3A state wrestling tournament this year than the 14 competitors that were crowned state champions at Nikiski High School on Dec. 11, 2010.

The tournament also showed how a community can benefit when that same community comes together to host a grappling extravaganza drawing some 50 some communities from all over the state.

"It was nice to have all the communities -- Kenai, Soldotna, Nikiski, Sterling, Kasilof -- all having a stake in what happened," said Dan Carstens, the assistant principal at Nikiski for the past six years. "When everybody works together, it doesn't matter where the tournament is, it makes it one top-notch event."

By drawing about 200 wrestlers to the area, plus coaches, parents and managers, the central Kenai Peninsula also benefits by getting a much-needed infusion of cash just before the holidays.

"That helped. It helped quite a bit," said Lynn Tree, owner of the Tree House restaurant in Nikiski. "That helped because the holidays were coming and in Nikiski, the winters can get pretty hard."

Carstens got the ball rolling when he submitted a bid to the Alaska Schools Activities Association and won the tournament for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

"I know that Nikiski had never really hosted a huge state tournament, or anything like that," Carstens said. "With the parental support, the administration support and the staff support, it was the perfect time to act.

"Right now wrestling is part of kind of a perfect storm. We have a really strong club program and the parents are enthusiastic."

Carstens is the head coach for the Nikiski Freestyle Wrestling Club. He also served as the Class 1-2-3A state tournament director. But he said putting on the tournament was larger -- much larger -- than one man.

The assistant principal said he knew the tournament would never come to fruition without parental support. The parents said they couldn't wait to have the big show in Nikiski.

"There was a ton of volunteers," Carstens said. "I couldn't tell you how many hours. If I started naming names, I'd probably forget about 100 people."

ASAA actually provides a stipend to some of the workers at the tournament, but that didn't stop the volunteers from being true volunteers.

"What all these guys did was donate that stipend to the wrestling program," Carstens said. "The wrestling program made a nice chunk of change. That's the kind of people we have out here."

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District also had to be on board with the tournament not only because of the use of its facilities, but also because part of the tournament would be going on while class was in session.

Finally, Carstens made sure the business community was involved by giving a presentation to a joint meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce in late November.

Carstens said the business community was excited, but also wished it would have known about the event sooner.

"I wish I would have communicated better with them," Carstens said. "It's something that will be done better next year."

Even with the late notice, Carstens said the business community did a lot to help. For example, on the day of his presentation to the chambers, a free radio ad was recorded for the tournament.

The tournament returned the favor by helping businesses, especially restaurants and hotels. Nikiski wrestling coach Adam Anders said none of the teams stayed at the school, so that meant more than 200 wrestlers, plus parents, family and staff, were looking for lodging in the area.

Judilee Forrest, the manager of the 52-room Quality Inn in Kenai, said the hotel was sold out on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of tournament weekend. She said the hotel was almost full on Wednesday, as well.

She said the hotel does well during sporting events because it has a pool and a continental breakfast.

Perhaps the best example of the symbiotic relationship that can develop between a big event like the Class 1-2-3A state wrestling championship and a business comes from Charlie's Pizza in Nikiski.

"I just think it's good for business and I love doing it," said Steven Chamberlain, the owner of Charlie's Pizza. "I love supporting the teams. I like raising money for them that goes directly to team travel costs."

Chamberlain said there is no question that business was up during the tournament. But all of that business did not come at Charlie's, which has 16 seats for dining.

Chamberlain struck a deal with an assistant wrestling coach. Chamberlain sold the Nikiski wrestling teams two-topping, large pizzas for $10. The assistant coach would then sell the pizza for $2.50 a slice at state, with the $10-a-pizza proceeds going to the wrestling program.

Chamberlain said the Nikiski coach sold 55 large pizzas. The owner said he doesn't make much money when he sells a two-topping, large pizza for $10, but he said he enjoys giving back to the community and thinks the word-of-mouth advertising is invaluable.

"We've been open 4 1/2 years and I've only done one newspaper ad," Chamberlain said. "I've never done any radio and my number is very small in the phone book.

"I spend my money helping out the community and that seems to work better. I use word of mouth instead of big ads. I'll continue to help where I can and keep giving them great pizza."

Word of mouth works in more than the pizza business, but that may be one aspect of the state tournament's impact that is yet to come.

Carstens said pretty much everybody knows what the Kenai Peninsula has to offer in the summer as a tourist destination, but he said what other communities can't know is how hospitable the community is. Letting residents sell the community to potential tourists has value.

"This was one of the top-notch tournaments," Carstens said. "I know it sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but they did a great job and the hospitality, not just in Nikiski but on the central Peninsula, was bar none.

"There were a handful of people, that when you told them what you can do here in the summer, you could see eyebrows raising."



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