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Mats and Mountains


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Story by Daniel Horton

When you think of a wrestling camp you don't often think of fishing, hiking, swimming and volleyball. But with the conclusion of the 3rd Annual Bear Paw Wrestling Camp, those activities were just some of things that brought in 115 campers from across the state this last Thursday through Sunday. “A lot of the younger kids get out and get some fishing in,” Havre High head wrestling coach Scott Filius said. “We have taken some kids out to Mount Otis, and we get some volleyball games and some outdoor stuff going. It's a really good experience.” Each day there are three two-hour sessions where the campers are asked to focus on nothing but wresting and learning new techniques. But Filius and the rest of his staff hope the kids take more than just new techniques away from this unique experience in the mountains. “We do want them to learn wrestling,” Great Falls High head coach Steve Komac said. “But they will meet a lot of new friends here. There are kids from all different towns, and they meet new kids and make new friendships.” When the campers are off the mats, there is a real sense of bonding and camaraderie. Getting to hang out in their free time, and sharing a cabin with 10 other guys from other programs across Montana, the campers are able to meet new kids from all over, including Havre, Harlem, Laurel, Sheppard, Billings, Malta, Bozeman, Helena and Great Falls. It's a real summer camp atmosphere with real summer camp activities. “You always want the kids to learn something about the sport and get better,” Filius said. “But you also want them to get to where they are easier to be around. They pick up the interactions it takes to make a group effort, they want to be a part of something and hopefully we are having fun. It's kind of neat to see all those kids mesh.” And it is without a doubt the uniqueness of the camp that is drawing in more and more campers each year the camp is offered. Filius has actually run the camp for six years, but this is only the third year at the new location. Now hosting the camp at the Kiwanis Campground in the heart of the Bear Paw Mountains, Filius and the campers now have adequate room for growth and the facilities to handle it. A year ago there were 38 kids preregistered and a final turnout of 95 wrestlers. This year, after 64 pre-registered the grand total landed at 115 total campers. With more than enough space, the Kiwanis Campground has been ideal. Filius is able to split the 10-18 year-old campers up in three age groups and is able to provide them all with their own space and mats. A recreation building holds two full mats for the high school campers, while the donation of a giant tent from the Havre Boy Scouts allows two more full mats outside for the middle school campers. And the cooperation between the weather and a wideopen campground allows two more full mats for the younger, grade school age campers. Just from the Great Falls area alone, 45 kids made the trip alongside Komac, C.M.R. head coach Aaron Jensen and University of Great Falls head coach Caleb Schaeffer. All three Great Falls area wrestling mentors have strong ties to wrestling in Havre. “We don't have to try and get kids to come to this camp,” Komac said. “They call us and want to come to this camp. It's very easy. We get our skills, our learning of the sport, but we also get to experience the outdoors. This is truly the first time a kid can say they are going to camp and feel like they are camping but still wrestling and learning.” Kane Gabrielson, a 10-year-old wrestler making his second trip to the camp, makes sure to take full advantage of the outdoors, both on and off the mat. “It's all fun,” Gabrielson said. “You get to go fishing a lot, and it's not as hot as it would be if we were wrestling indoors.” Having a successful wrestling camp has helped wrestlers from all over the state, but it has also had a large impact on the success of the Havre High wrestling program. It's no secret that the Blue Ponies have found an abundance of success through their offseason training. And having a camp so close to home has given the Ponies yet another opportunity to get time on the mats. In previous years Filius has encouraged his grapplers to commit to at least two summer camps, but with prices and travel accommodations it has always been a struggle to do so. “It was difficult to get kids to commit,” Filius said. “This way we have one in our backyard and we hope to get kids to get on this one. Then we just have to find one more. Basically we designed it with the idea that it allows our kids to get on the mat and it's priced so that it doesn't force kids to choose.” But using the camp to help Pony wrestlers get time on the mats doesn't stop after the weekend is over. Since Filius staffs the camp with Montana coaches and volunteers, it has allowed the camp to have more of a reasonable tuition. And with more and more campers in attendance, the HHS wrestling program has more proceeds to work with throughout the rest of their offseason travels, like the upcoming trip to a major tournament in Denver. “Instead of jacking up the price and bringing in a bunch of clinicians, weve brought in Montana clinicians,” Filius said. “We try to keep it relatively local and make it a little more practical for the kids. This helps offset our cost and it makes those trips more obtainable for the kids.” It's still early in the summer, but while some of the Pony wrestlers have already found their way to a camp, more are still to come during their offseason preparations. Eighteen kids made a trip to Jamestown right after school let out, and five more attended the Montana State University-Northern wrestling camp earlier this month. And now with the Disney Duals just around the corner, the ability to put on, run and attend the Bear Paw camp reveals just what kind of dedication has made the Havre Program successful in the past and hopefully again this upcoming season. “The ability to put on the camp is a reflection of our program,” Filius said. “I am not sure if the program builds the camp or the camp builds the program, but I know they work hand-inhand. We've always been getting our kids out in the summer, this just gives us an avenue to get more kids without as much travel. It's a good time and it's taken off very well.”


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