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Metra's destruction hits close to home

 

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The Billings Metra, now known as the Rimrock Auto Arena at Metra Park, is a place many Montanans are familiar with for so many different reasons.

And folks in Havre, including myself are no different.

While my first thoughts of Sunday's unusual and scary tornado in Billings were with the people I knew, making sure they were safe and sound, my thoughts couldn't help but turn to the Metra.

I know plenty of people in Billings, including my brother-in-law who lives in the heights and was right in the middle of the action on Sunday. Knowing he, other friends in Billings, and the fact that no one was injured in Sunday's twister was easily the most important thing to come out of the bizarre weather event.

But I can't help but be saddened by the fact the Metra was literally destroyed on Sunday.

Why?

The answer is simple, I like, so many Montanans have plenty of special moments which have happened right inside Montana's biggest sports arena, and for many in Havre, the Metra is a very special place. And that's why, even 275 miles away, its destruction hit so close to home.

My first trip inside the 12,000 seat arena had nothing to do with sports but it gave me a glimpse of what a large venue was like in person for the first time. As a freshman in high school, my mother had one of her cooler moments when she trusted me enough to attend a Motley Crue concert at the Metra. It was my first experience there and it was an event I'll certainly never forget — and neither have my eardrums.

As I grew older however, the Metra has been the scene for many great sports moments, both at leisure and professionally for me.

I've seen some important high school basketball games inside the famed arena, and if you want to call it a sport, I'll also freely admit I attended a live WCW Monday Night Nitro show there as well. And yes, I like many other professional wrestling fans at the time, chanted Goldberg as the former wrestling star took to the ring.

But as much fun as I've had watching events in the Metra, it's high school wrestling which has brought me so many great memories, and it's that event, the all-class state wrestling tournament which will always mean the Metra will hold a special place in my heart.

Like so many people, I'll never forget the first time I covered the state wrestling tournament. I'd never seen such a spectacle in Montana high school sports, and there's nothing quite like championship night at the Metra. The Parade of Champions when all of the wrestlers competing in the finals march in, the face-offs that follow, the matches themselves, the crowd, the awards ceremony, it's quite simply the best night in Montana high school sports — and the venue, the Metra, has plenty to do with that.

From a professional standpoint, the state wrestling tournament in Billings is something I look very forward to covering each and every February.

I've been doing it for eight years, and it hasn't gotten old yet. Next to the Cat/Griz football game each year, the state wrestling tournament is the biggest sporting event in Montana and it's been an important part of my career for some time now.

And Havre and Hi-Line fans have enjoyed the Metra as well. The Havre Blue Ponies have currently won four straight Class A state championships inside the famed arena, so many local wrestlers have achieved their biggest dreams in that building, and friends and family from the Hi-Line have watched their kids do just that over the years.

The people I've met at the tournament over the years are friends for life now too, and many of them, I would not know if I hadn't started covering the event.

That's what's so special about the tournament and the Metra. The wrestlers grow up, new kids take center stage every year, the names on the mats and in the brackets change, yet every year, I'm greeted by many of the same Metra staff, many of the same referees and volunteers that work the event year after year. There's truly nothing like it.

It may sound like I'm writing the Metra's eulogy, as if the tournament or the building won't ever be there again.

That's not the case.

Structural engineers have been on sight since Monday trying to determine the best course of action for the arena.

And earlier this week, the Montana High School Association said its first option for the 2011 state tournament, and other high school sports slated for the arena next school year, is hoping the Metra can be rebuilt or renovated in time.

But looking at the devastation outside and inside the Metra, I'm not sure that will happen, and the MHSA has said if doesn't, a number of options for the state wrestling tournament will explored.

Potentially, the event could be moved to another arena in Montana.

For years, speculation that Bozeman's Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, on the campus of Montana State University, is the only other venue in Montana that can hold the event properly. However, the MHSA said other options, including splitting venues in the same city, or having separate tournament sights for the Class AA and A and B-C meets could be a possibility.

Whatever happens, I know the allclass state wrestling tournament, as well as sports in general will return to the Metra some day. However, having seen what the tornado did to the arena on Sunday, the building won't be the same when it's rebuilt, and it serves as a reminder for all of us to hold on to and cherish the memories we have in life.

I know I already have plenty of great memories, and many of those sporting memories are thanks to things which have happened inside the Metra in Billings. And while it might not look like it right now, the building will once again give me, and many other people in Montana, some more great memories some day.

 
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