Longtime assistant Heater stabilizes Kiski Area wrestling
Kiski Area coach Chuck Tursky, owner of more wins than any coach in WPIAL history, missed the Cavaliers' match with neighboring rival Burrell Dec. 19 because he needed to take care of a pressing health concern.
Staying away from the match was the hard part.
The decision to choose who would step up to replace him came easier, as Tursky, with 485 wins, knew he could trust assistant Chris Heater to handle any and all coaching responsibilities that night and thereafter.
For the past two-plus weeks, Heater has run the Kiski Area program while Tursky, the Cavaliers' coach since 1986, recovers from major internal surgery.
In an age when few high school wrestling teams have assistants, Heater is a rarity. He joined the coaching staff in 1992, and despite several opportunities to take over a program elsewhere as well as at Kiski Area, he has insisted on remaining with the Cavaliers as Tursky's right-hand man.
Kiski Area's stability during Tursky's absence has shed light on the importance of Heater. Tursky, who is in his late 50s, hopes to return to the team by the end of January, but he knows the Cavaliers are in safe hands if his comeback encounters a delay.
“Right now, we're missing him,” said Heater, who has benefited from the help of volunteer assistant Don Toy. “But I think it goes toward the consistency that we have throughout the program that we can keep things rolling. I know what he'd do for the majority of the situations that we get into.
“For several years now, I've tried to do more and more things that a head coach would do because I wanted to take some of the load off of him so that he can keep coaching.”
Heater and Tursky first met as assistants with the Kiski Area football team in 1992 just after Heater had secured a teaching job at the high school. Both men tell the story of their initial encounter the same way.
“It was one of those things where we eyeballed each other, trying to figure each other out, and we're either going to love each other or hate each other,” Heater said. “And it ended up working out.”
Said Tursky: “We looked at each other for about five minutes after we said ‘Hi,' and we tried to figure out whether we'd like each other or not.”
That initial tension stemmed from rivaling passions for hard work and high standards, Tursky explained. Through the years, those shared principles have pushed Kiski Area (10-1) to two WPIAL Class AAA team titles (1997, 2003), a PIAA runner-up finish in 2003 and several hundred wins.
“The reason why we work so well together is because as hard as I'm working on one side of the room, he's working that hard on the other side,” Tursky said.
Heater modeled his coaching style and his wrestling philosophies after Tursky. The two men think alike and act alike, often down to their mannerisms at the edge of the mat.
Still, Heater believes there are subtleties in Tursky's approach that he can't quite mimic. And for that reason, he intends to move aside and let Tursky reclaim the reins later this season and for years to come.
“There have been several times where he thought he'd had enough, but when you see him in the room with the kids, it's clear to me that he's not done yet,” Heater said. “He hasn't had enough, just when you see his passion. So there's where it's kind of been my job to point that out.”
Tursky likely will become the WPIAL's first coach with 500 wins. He heaps much of the credit for that milestone on Heater.
“In my opinion, he's one of the best coaches in the state,” Tursky said. “He just doesn't have the title of being a head coach. And the reason he doesn't is because he wants to see us get 500 wins.”