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Wrestlers improve in a unique setting


The summer months are filled with sports camps which, in turn, are filled with hard-working athletes of all ages preparing for the upcoming season. And whether it be a basketball, volleyball, football or wrestling camp, the goals are all the same: bring in athletes, show them a good time and, most importantly, teach them a thing or two about their sport of choice.

If that's the case, the annual Bear Paw Wrestling Camp put on by Havre High head wrestling coach Scott Filius may very well be one of the best in business.

The annual camp is located about 20 miles south of Havre in Beaver Creek Park. Filius just concluded his fifth camp at the Kiwanis Campground, and it's clear that the unique camp, lying smack dab in the Bear's Paw Mountains, continues to gain statewide attention as well as continues to grow every year it is offered.

Grapplers ranging from 8 years old to high school seniors flock to the camp with hopes of getting better. It's no secret that daily activities including hiking, volleyball and trips to the lake help draw in the talent, but it's also no secret that the main goal of the coaches is to make every camper in attendance a better wrestler.

This year wrestlers from Havre, Forsyth, Sidney, Wolf Point, Great Falls, Huntley Project, Chinook and Loma all made the conscious effort to put in the hard work, practice and repetition of technique required at the four-day camp. There were 12 sessions packed into four days, as well as a takedown tournament at the end, where everything learned could be applied in live wrestling. Amongst the things covered in the sessions were moves and technique dealing with stance, position, motion, short offense, cradle offense, neutral defense, leg offense and everything in between.

"Anytime you have kids on the mat during the summer," Filius said, "you want them to just enjoy themselves and to improve. We do a ton of live wrestling at the end of every session and try to give it to them with enough breaks that they aren't completely gassed. We go in short goes, but lots of them.

"Every day we try to cover something from top, something from neutral and something from bottom," Filius added. "We really try to focus on that for those three sessions a day. This camp is just an opportunity for kids to get on the mat and bang, and that's invaluable."

And no matter what stage a wrestler is at in their career, everything begins with the basics.

With all of the information packed into the four days, it is critical that everybody is catered to and understands what they are being taught. Having the kids split up into three different age groups — 8-11 years old, middle school and high school — helps break up the different skill levels and allows everybody to be taught without boring the more skilled wrestlers and overwhelming the beginners.

"We have three sets of mats and we are able to separate the kids by age and experience a little bit," Filius said. "We have the mats (under the tent outside) with the younger kids where we try to tone down the technique a little bit, we have the older kids (in the camp ground's rec hall) where we really try to take it up to a whole other level and we have the real younger kids on the mat outside where they are learning the fundamentals and playing a lot of games."

And this year also marked Montana State University-Northern head wrestling coach Tyson Thivierge's third year helping coach the camp. He helped with the high school wrestlers and stressed the basics and doing them correctly. He made it clear that repetition is also important, and that even the beginner moves and techniques need to be done correctly.

"It's a lot of information," Thivierge said. "We have to cover a wide range of things in order for them to really learn. And I have always started with the basics, and looking at the camp schedule you will see that it is all the basics. I like to come in and do the basics and talk a lot about position. It is really easy to work with Scott (Filius), we have the same vision, so coming here and being able to coach is in my comfort zone."

A lot can be taken away from the Bear Paw Wrestling Camp, and depending on what style of learner one is, chances are there is a coach that better connects with a certain wrestler.

That is just another thing that makes this camp so unique. It isn't just Filius telling kids what to do, it's Filius, Thivierge, CMR head coach Aaron Jensen, former Havre High greats and many other coaches from around the state helping mold and teach the growing athletes.

Sophomore Damus Ard from Huntley Project attended the camp for the first time and really enjoyed all that he experienced.

"A lot of the other camps I have been to are different," Ard said. "I really like this one because you have the opportunity to learn from so many different coaches. This camp is really all about us, other camps have one head coach and you are forced to learn one way, but here if you don't relate to one coach you can pick up technique from another. I am not really a huge fan of just drilling (technique), but I know it's for the best. And I like that the coaches have really focused on that and give us a chance to wrestle live as well."

Brady Ophus, age 11, from Havre was also a first-year camper. And though he focused less on technique and wrestled with the younger, less experienced group outside, Ophus still found himself enjoying the camp on and off the mat.

"This is really fun," Ophus said. "The other practices I have done, it was just like once every three days or so, but this is way different because there are way more kids from all over. I like that we get to wrestle and play with friends and stuff."

Anybody who attends the camp will get better — with the information being taught and the successful coaches teaching it, it is almost impossible not to. Whether the camper is in their first year of wrestling, or preparing to defend their state championship, working hard and getting better and having fun doing so is all that matters.

"When kids bang with kids from other schools and they find success or failure with what they are doing," Filius said, "hopefully they can adjust. Sometimes when you are in your own room you get used to thinking, 'I can physically dominate this kid' and you might not push yourself. But when you run up against somebody else who can stop what you are doing you have to refine your technique and find something else. You are either expanding your game or getting better at what you are doing."


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