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Another Lewistown picker? Big Sandy native going with upsets

 


When I first started doing this column, I didn't realize how time consuming or popular it would become. Contrary to popular belief, it's not easy to interview people about their picks and dig up enough dirt to make fun of them in the story.

But one thing I was certain of when I started this is that we would only have one Lewistown person be a guest picker, ever. It was a sure thing, like the Ben Affleck-J.Lo wedding. Wait, that's not a good example. It was a sure thing like a Cubs-Red Sox world series. Okay, that's not a good example either.

Since miracles never cease, like Ashton Kutcher dating Demi Moore, and strange things are possible like Britney Spears kissing Madonna - for the second time this year, we have a Lewistown Eagle as our guest picker.

Actually, Mike Mangold was a Big Sandy Pioneer before he was ever a Lewistown Eagle. Currently the Lewistown head wrestling coach, Mike is a graduate of Big Sandy High School and one of my many former college roommates.

And since this is the biggest weekend in Big Sandy High School football history, I figured I'd interview Mike, so I could get some cheap shots in about not making it this far when he was on the Pioneers.

Also, his favorite NFL team, the Cincinnati Bengals, play the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs and I wanted to hear his insane logic that would lead him to believe the Bengals will somehow beat the Chiefs.

"The Chiefs' winning streak has to end sometime," he said. "The Bengals are the toughest team KC will play in the last two weeks. It's definitely the upset of the week."

Bengals the toughest team? Upset of the week?

First of all, the words "Bengals" and "toughest team" should never appear in the same sentence unless the words "are nowhere near the" are placed directly in the middle.

It's this type of loyalty that Mike has exhibited since I started playing baseball against him in Babe Ruth. Through Babe Ruth all-stars, American Legion and college, Mike and I played on the same teams. He was even my assistant coach when I coached the Havre Comets.

Even after all those years of watching all of my baseball-induced temper tantrums, strange luck-producing superstitions and umpire-angered tirades, Mike still had me as a groomsmen in his wedding - that's some loyalty.

Besides staying loyal to his Bengals, he's also staying loyal to Big Sandy. He played all four years for the Pioneers, making it to the quarterfinals as a freshman and a sophomore. He was part of that quarterfinal jinx that this year's squad snapped with a win over Sheridan.

"Even though they're an underdog, I'm staying with my roots," he said. "They have such a good class of seniors. They're so big. We weren't ever that big when I played. I was like one of the biggest kids."

For people who don't know Mike, that isn't very big.

But even Mike admitted that the Pioneers will have to play even tougher without their biggest player, Mason Ophus, who was suspended for the championship game.

"He was always a big kid," Mike said. "I used to teach him swimming lessons when he was 9 or 10 years old."

As for the entire suspension situation, being a coach, Mike remains very diplomatic.

"It's tough to have an opinion about it since I didn't see it," he said. "It didn't sound like the celebration thing was that bad. I know a lot of kids celebrate when they do things and it doesn't get called."

But it's Mike's morals, standards and ideas of sportsmanship that always clashed with mine.

"Rules are rules," he said. "And everybody has to abide by them. You hate to see a kid miss out on the biggest game of his life. But everyone is told the rules at the beginning of the season. It's a judgment call for the referee and I am sure he was doing his best. I wouldn't get mad at the officiating, unlike someone else I know."

That last sentence was directed at me and my temper.

As usual, Mike is much more reasonable in his outlook than I would ever be. But then again, he might be the most laid-back human being I've ever met. Our college baseball coach once asked me if Mike had the ability to sleep with his eyes open.

But he wasn't quite so laid-back when it came to competition. Obviously, he wasn't the raging, psychotic, lunatic that I was, but he did wrestle from grade school through high school and even a year in college, so you know he isn't quite as sane as he portrays.

He still gets rather upset when I mention that he led our college conference in double plays grounded into.

"I had a bad leg," he always said with indifference.

Actually, to be that slow you would have to have two bad legs.

Or that our coach once told the Jamestown College coach that he might have the slowest player in a three-state area.

"I'm faster than him," he said when I relayed him the conversation.

Which might be true, but hey, our coach was only 62 at the time.

But Mike's sensitivity about his athletic prowess has waned, now I tease him about his coaching prowess instead.

As Lewistown's head wrestling coach, he has the unenviable task of trying to make Lewistown kids come out and participate in wrestling. After being around a Lewistown person for the last few years, I could see where he would run into some difficulties. Let's just say that the kids from Fergus aren't the toughest kids I've ever met.

This year, Mike hopes to have 25 kids out for his varsity program, which is a far cry from the 50 or 60 that Havre High will probably have. The problem is that Lewistown has little, if any, wrestling tradition, and Mangold and his staff are trying to build it one piece at a time.

However, success in wrestling starts early, and Lewistown doesn't seem to have a high number of grade school kids competing in the AAU program.

"I can't get kids to come out until at least seventh or eighth grade," he said. "They're still learning the basics by the time they get to high school. They need to start at an earlier age."

The Eagles will still have a decent team this season, but the lower weights will be a little weak.

"Our best wrestler at 98 pounds is a girl," Mangold said. "She's pretty good. But the lower weights has been our toughest spot to find kids."

Mike had little trouble wrestling with his picks this week. He went with Fort Benton in the Class B title game, Dillon in Class A, Billings Senior in AA and Geraldine in the six-man title game.

In college games, Mike stuck with the Griz and picked the Bobcats, but not before taking a little dig at them.

"Montana State has a really exciting offense - in the fourth quarter," he said. "I don't know what they're doing the rest of the game."

He also went with Minnesota in a mild upset over Iowa and Purdue over Ohio State. He picked another little upset with N.C. State beating Florida State.

"Florida State got knocked out of the BCS and they will still be down this week," he said. "It's great that all of the Florida school are out of it."

Don't like Florida much?

"The only good part about Florida is Disney World," he said.

Mike's NFL picks followed a simple rule.

"I just picked against the team I hated more," he said.

George continued his dominance last week, finishing 13-5 and grabbing control of the overall lead. Nobody likes him much now. Wells and Harvey finished at 11-7, I was 10-8 and Barry and Amanda Brock finished at 9-9.

In the ballyhooed battle of the Brocks, Harvey has the last laugh for now, beating Amanda and avenging the shame he felt for having his golf game ridiculed. And according to him, the 110 he shot at Polson was incorrect. It was a 109.

There must have a been a mulligan somewhere in there.

 

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