MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Like all memorial sporting events, the Peter Caruso Mahopac Tournament doesn’t have a happy beginning. But when a grieving family was at their lowest moment in June 2011 following the death of their 20-year-old son, the wrestling community fell back on Peter Caruso’s core principles—friendship, teamwork and sportsmanship—to ignite a flame that still burns today.

Just days after Peter Caruso, an All-Section wrestler during his time at Mahopac High School, was killed in a car crash, donations came pouring in from rival coaches to his scholarship fund. The only issue? “We didn’t have a scholarship,” said John Caruso, Peter’s father. But the funds had to go somewhere, so the Peter Caruso Memorial Scholarship was born.

“I was getting checks from really super people who understood my situation,” Caruso said.

Sign Up for Mahopac Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The first tournament in Peter Caruso’s honor, a modest dual meet at Mahopac High School, was held in December 2011. The tournament, in John Caruso’s words, “mushroomed” after that. Today, he regrettably turns away schools that are eager to take part in the tournament, capping it at 17 teams.

Scheduled this year for Saturday, Jan. 25, the tournament is a fundraiser for the scholarship fund.

In the eight years since its inception, the memorial fund has awarded 26 scholarships to college-bound Mahopac wrestlers. The scholarships, John Caruso said, are awarded to any senior on the team who takes the time to apply. The only requirement is for them to write an essay about how they’ve carried on Peter Caruso’s legacy of friendship, teamwork and sportsmanship.

Who Is Peter Caruso?

Following in his father’s footsteps, the South Korean-born Peter Caruso began wrestling when he was in the fifth grade. He took to the sport immediately, taking down competitors an unusual wrestling style.

“He had a certain funk,” John Caruso said. “It would confuse his opponents and even confuse the officials.”

There were two sides to Peter Caruso: the ferocious competitor on the mat and the thoughtful person who donated his time to tutoring youth wrestlers.

“He would tear your lungs out on the mat,” John Caruso said, “but when the match was over, he was everybody’s best friend. It wasn’t personal, it was just his competitive nature.”

The Tournament

Most of today’s wrestlers have never met Peter Caruso, but many coaches still remember competing against him.

“The nice thing about the tournament, these [16] teams that come, they don’t have to say a word,” John Caruso said. “They know what I’m doing. They know without asking what kind of person Peter was.”

At the Jan. 25 tournament, 16 wrestlers from each weight class will compete in a single-elimination tournament. The top three finishers will earn a trophy and the top six finishers will earn a medal.

Competing teams are: Byram Hills, Carmel, Darien (Conn.), Greenville, John Glenn, Our Lady of Lourdes, Mahopac, Middletown, Peekskill, Pine Bush, Putnam Valley, Rondout Valley, Roy C. Ketcham, Smithtown East, Somers and Yorktown.

A long-sleeve shirt with the names of the participating schools will be given out at the tournament with a donation. Checks can also be made out directly to the Pete Caruso Memorial Scholarship Fund; c/o John Caruso; 375 Lake Shore Drive, Mahopac, N.Y. 10541.

Despite being one of the smaller sports in the school, wrestling is perhaps the most charitable, with a “number of different scholarships” emerging in recent years, John Caruso said.

“I can just go and hide somewhere,” he said. “But that’s not what my son would want. He’d want me to live. I put this thing together. It’s mushroomed and it’s positive. Something good happened on a very, very horrible tragedy. I will never give up on what I’m doing until the day I see him again.”