PRINCETON — In 1963, Princeton High School wrestling coach Lyle King started up the Princeton Invitational wrestling tournament, best known as the “PIT.”
John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States.
A gallon of gas cost 30 cents.
A gallon of milk cost 49 cents.
A first-class postage stamp was four cents.
And meet director and former PHS coach Randy Swinford was 10 years old.
Fifty years later, the PIT is still going strong with the 2013 tournament starting up Friday evening at Prouty Gym, marking the 50th anniversary.
“With this being the 50th year, it will be a little more special for guys like Randy Swinford and Lyle King who put so much time and energy into making this tournament as great as it is,” fifth-year PHS coach Steve Amy said.
Swinford, who was the varsity wrestling coach at PHS from 1983-2008, said it was only appropriate to name the tournament in King’s honor in the late ‘90s.
“Lyle’s the guy that brought wrestling to Princeton and put it in place at interscholastic level. He created the tournament. Without him, we don’t know if it would have got started here or when.”
The PIT has grown bigger and better over the years. The first tournament had four teams, including Princeton, Rock Falls, Freeport and Kewanee.
Gradual expansion saw the PIT grow from four teams to eight, than to 10, 12, 16, 24 and to it current 32-team format.
The PIT became a two-day event in 2002 when the field was expanded to 24, allowing for a true wrestleback format where everybody gets a shot at third place. The IHSA allows wrestlers to wrestle only five times a day, and in the PIT, some competitors now may wrestle seven or eight times throughout the course of two days.
“It’s just not fair to the kids, the competitors, to limit them. This is the most fair way of seeing who your Top 6 wrestlers are,” Swinford said of the PIT’s wrestleback format.
There have been 115 individual state champions to wrestle in the PIT and seven state championship teams. Teams come from all parts of the state to get a taste of competition that is likened to a mini-state meet, giving teams like Princeton, Rock Falls, Coal City and Riverdale the opportunity to compete against the likes of downstate Petersburg PORTA and Roxanna.
“I think the fact when we started expanding and went south and tried to get some of the best teams and attracted some of the north teams that wanted to see them before they got to state,” Swinford said. “You want to see how good you are and this kind of shows you where you’re at about a month before state.”
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