Tursky built Kiski Area wrestling into area power during hall-of-fame career
When colleges began to recruit Chuck Tursky for football during his senior season at Riverview, Raiders coach Chuck Wagner drove his player to several of the schools to look at them. Riverview wrestling coach Randy Kahler took Tursky to dinner many times.
It left an impression.
“I thought everybody did that,” Tursky said. “Nobody does that. They really went up and beyond and helped me become a better person and better coach because of how they treated me and actually told me when I wasn’t on the right track, too.”
Tursky, who became the WPIAL’s all-time winningest wrestling coach in a career that spanned 36 seasons at Burrell and Kiski Area, will join his former Riverview football coaches Jake Cappa and Wagner in the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame at the annual induction ceremony May 20 at the New Kensington Quality Inn.
“The one thing I learned from them is you can’t fake it,” said Tursky, who compiled a 505-143-2 record, including a mark of 459-83-1 and two WPIAL championships in 29 seasons at Kiski Area. “Either you like young people and want to work with them, or you don’t. If you’re going to go and be a coach and not be sincere with the kids, it’s not going to work out. Kids are smarter than that. They can see through that.”
The A-K Hall of Fame is Tursky’s fifth. He is also a member of the WPIAL, PIAA, Slippery Rock halls of fame, as well as the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“I’m from the Valley, so this is kind of your home hall of fame,” he said. “That means a lot to you. After five hall of fames, there’s been a lot of people that have been to all of them. That really means a lot to you because it really seems like it’s getting married and getting divorced and getting somebody to come to the (next) wedding. It’s really a special night to spend with your friends.”
A two-time state qualifier at heavyweight for Riverview, Tursky went on to become a four-year letterman at Slippery Rock, where he also played football. The Rock’s wrestling coach, Fred Powell, taught Tursky the intricacies of wrestling that helped him when he became a coach.
“Heavyweight was unlimited (back then), and I thought I was really good because I was pretty good in high school,” Tursky said. “But I was a big fish in a small pond. Then when I went to college, I was wrestling Division I, and I was wrestling guys who were 400 pounds.
“I had to learn how to wrestle. You can’t just go out there and hit a couple moves and think you’re going to win a match. I had to become a student of the game, and that really helped me later on to become a better coach. Bullying people around like I did in high school didn’t really work in college.”
After taking over as Kiski Area’s coach in 1986, Tursky led the Cavaliers to unprecedented success: 16 section titles, including 102 straight victories from 1993-2006; WPIAL team championships in 1997 and 2003 and a PIAA runner-up finish in ’03.
Eleven wrestlers won WPIAL individual titles under Tursky, and Matt McCutcheon won a PIAA championship in 2012.
“I loved wrestling for coach Tursky,” said Shane Kuhn, who won two WPIAL titles and now plays football at Youngstown State. “He always made wrestling fun even though it is such a difficult and competitive sport. I think Kiski’s continuous success is a large tribute to the way he laid out how things were supposed to be done on and off the mat. All the Kiski wrestling coaches are great from elementary to the varsity coaches, and I believe that is because of the high standard he has set for many years.
“Also, as a heavyweight I had a very good relationship to coach. He was a very successful heavyweight wrestler in his day, and I tried to retain every bit of information and technique he gave me about the weight class. I don’t think there is anyone more deserving for a place in the Hall of Fame.”
For all his accomplishments, Tursky said his greatest highlight as a coach was the long-standing relationship he built with fellow coaches Don Toy and Chris Heater. Toy has been an assistant for 25 years. Heater was Tursky’s top assistant from 1992-2015, at which point the two swapped places.
Kiski Area won a WPIAL team title in 2017 with Heater as coach and Tursky in the assistant’s chair.
“We’re best of friends, and he’s just been a great role model for me as far as what kind of coach I want to be and even just what kind of person I want to be,” Heater said. “Being around him this many years, it’s helped me grow in both directions.
“There’s times in the practice room where one of us can be on one side of the room and the other one can be on the other side of the room and really not have to say anything to each other. We’re just moving practice along and get things done that we want. A lot of times I’m getting ready to yell out to our team to start doing something different, and I start laughing because he’s saying it.”
Although he retired from teaching two years ago, Tursky has no plans to give up coaching anytime soon.
“I talked to this old guy (one time) who was about 88, and I asked, ‘What’s the best thing that happened to you in your life?’ ” Tursky said. “He (said), ‘I don’t know. My life’s not over.’ ”