For two years now I have had the privilege of watching the Havre High wrestling program. But to be honest, I thought that there was really only so much regular season wrestling one guy can take.
But after experiencing my first ever state wrestling tournament, I think my feelings have taken a 180 degree turn.
For two straight days I sat in the bleachers of the Butte Civic Center in Butte for the Class A state wrestling tournament. And to start I actually felt kind of lost. I was surrounded by hundreds of wrestlers and coaches, and hundreds more screaming fans surrounding the four mats lying directly in the middle of the Civic Center floor. And if it hadn’t been for the small table labeled “media” just off to the side, I may have very well been swallowed up in the crowed.
At the state level wrestling is a whole new kind of animal. I assumed it would be, seeing as how I have experienced Class C boys basketball, Class A girls basketball and Class C football, all at the state ranks, but the energy at wrestling was something else.
In the two days of action there were 450 bouts from 98 pounds all the way up through heavyweight. And with fans representing 22 different Class A schools in attendance, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the noise factor.
But I quickly learned that a small moment of silence was a rarity. With every match came screaming, rhyming chants, stomping, clapping and even the occasional boos and sarcastic remarks directed towards the officials. Even if your school wasn’t represented in the match, you still screamed for one wrestler or the other because you knew how it would effect team scores and whether or not your team would move up or down in the overall rankings.
Besides the breaks in between rounds, the only moments of quiet came when the team scorers were updated and fans took a split second to stop watching wrestling and glanced at the two projector screens hanging from the rafters.
But don’t get me wrong, the fans weren’t a bad thing at all, in fact they actually made the weekend more exciting.
As a journalist, I'm not supposed to cheer for the team I am covering, but I couldn’t help it. I found myself caught up in the moment with the other rowdy fans and on the edge of my seat whenever a Blue Pony grappler took to the mat. When a Pony would win I wanted so much to stand up and hoot and holler, and when a Pony was defeated I was devastated. At times I would even find myself looking to the Havre fan section seeing how they were handling a tough loss, or after a win wishing I too had one of the blue foam fingers used to show other fans that Havre was #1.
Being able to be a part of something that is so loved by Montana was an amazing experience.
The only thing that could have made the weekend better, well besides a more comfortable hotel bed, was if the Ponies could have claimed their fifth straight state title. I guess it wasn’t meant to be this year, but second place was still impressive and made the town of Havre proud.
I am glad I was able to make the trip to state this year and look forward to doing it again. And maybe next time I will get to experience an All Class tournament and really see all of Montana wrestling at its finest.