EBENSBURG - Two archrival athletic programs bonded together for a common cause Thursday night.
But neither of them forgot the competitive spirit that made them rivals in the first place.
The Cambria Heights and Central Cambria wrestling programs pitched in to raise money for chronic kidney disease with wrestlers, fans and coaches all showing up at the Central Cambria High School gymnasium wearing green "Take Down Kidney Disease" T-shirts in honor of Mary Jane Ostrowski, the mother of Central Cambria sophomore wrestler Ian Ostrowski.
Mary Jane Ostrowski underwent a kidney transplant this past September, and the wrestlers involved in Thursday's dual meet carried her fighting spirit into Thursday's competition.
The Highlanders (3-1) posted a 45-30 victory in an exciting match that ended with three straight Cambria Heights falls that pulled the winners back from a 30-27 deficit.
Heights rode falls from Levi Niebauer (160 pounds), Dalton Waksmunski (170), and Will Hoover (182) at the end of the match to the victory.
The Highlanders also started strong, opening the match at 195 with a fall from Dennis Link and building an early 18-0 lead on subsequent falls from Tony Mezzelo at 220 and Aaron Gill at 285.
While the competition on the mat was heartening, the spirit surrounding the support of both schools for the plight of one of their own was even more so.
"Mary Jane is a great lady, and it's so nice to see her feeling well again and being able to get out to the matches,'' Central Cambria coach Bob Nikolishen said. "When situations get tough in life, it's nice to be able to respond, and Cambria Heights sent a great message by supporting this cause with us.''
People from both schools bought the t-shirts at a cost of $10 apiece, with all the money from the sales going to the National Kidney Foundation. Hundreds of people were decked out in green Thursday, giving the gymnasium a St. Patrick's Day-type atmosphere.
"Our booster club bought t-shirts for all the kids,'' Cambria Heights coach Mike Eckenrode said. "When Bob called me up and discussed this, we thought this was something that was very worthwhile doing.''
Thursday's match was certainly worthwhile watching, with Heights bookending outstanding individual performances at both ends of the lineup.
The Highlanders, whose power is in its upper weights, began at 195, with Link using a double arm-bar to pin Tom Howell in 1:23, and Mezzelo following with a 53-second fall over Brendon Smith at 220. Gill pinned John Branick in 1:51 at 285, getting Heights out to the 18-0 start. Link, Mezzelo and Gill are now each 4-0 this season.
"Dennis Link is a real stud out there,'' Eckenrode said of the sophomore. "Mezzelo did a great job, and I think that Aaron Gill is right up there with any heavyweight in the district, even though he hasn't been tested yet this season.''
As good as Heights was at the beginning of the bout, the Highlanders were even better at the end. Levi Niebauer (4-0) pinned Cordale Kline in 3:09 at 160 pounds, giving Heights the lead for good, 33-30. Waksmunski (2-0) scored six takedowns before pinning Bryce Thompson with 14 seconds left in the second period of their 170-pound bout, and Hoover (3-1) finished the match by pinning Jake Myers in 26 seconds at 182.
"Levi Niebauer is really tough, and Dalton is improving on his feet. He wore his opponent out, and got the fall tonight,'' Eckenrode said.
The Highlanders also got key performances from Joe Davis, who celebrated his return to wrestling competition after sustaining a broken leg during football season by pinning Hunter Kish in 1:15 at 126 pounds, and Ray Niebauer, who hit a reversal in the final seconds that turned into a five-point move for an 11-7 victory over Steve Pennington at 145.
Both coaches felt that the effort by the Highlanders' Eric Kuskoski, who battled gamely in a 10-7 loss to Central Cambria standout Tommy Opdenhoff at 138, was significant.
Along with Opdenhoff, Central Cambria's other winners included Ian Ostrowski and Colton Makin, who logged falls at 120 and 152, respectively, and Kerry Kirsch, whose third-period reversal produced a 3-2 win over Richard Legros in an entertaining bout at 152. Max Murin and Chase Lazration took forfeit wins at 106 and 113, respectively.
"It's always a great match with Cambria Heights,'' Nikolishen said.
For more than just one reason, it was again Thursday night.
195-Link, CH, pinned Howell, 1:23. 220-T. Mezzelo, CH, pinned Smith, :53. 285-Gill, CH, pinned Branick, 1:51. 106-Murin, CC, won by forfeit. 113-Lazration, CC, won by forfeit. 120-Ostrowski, CC, pinned Zabinski, 1:56. 126-Davis, CH, pinned Kish, 1:15.
132-Makin, CC, pinned Wilkie, 1:23. 138-Opdenhoff, CC, dec. Kuskoski, 10-7. 145-R. Niebauer, CH, dec. Pennington, 11-7. 152-Kirsch, CC, dec. Legros, 3-2. 160-L. Niebauer, CH, pinned Kline, 3:09. 170-Waksmunski, CH, pinned Thompson, 3:46. 182-Hoover, CH, pinned Myers, :26.
Records: Cambria Heights (3-1); Central Cambria (4-5).
Officials: Tab Boyer, Bryan Thomas.