For the better part of the last decade, I've woke up early on the second Friday of February in a Billings' hotel, my stomach full of Red Lobster and aching to drive myself through the usually cold and snowy streets of the Magic City to the Rimrock Auto Arena.
I drive myself there early on that Friday morning, preparing to spend over 24 hours on the floor of the Metra, watching the state's best high school wrestlers take their shot at immortality. And while I'm driving myself to the Metra for the first day of competition at the annual Montana All-Class State Wrestling Tournament, my wife is still tucked away all cozy in our hotel bed, preparing herself for two days of non-stop shopping in what is usually our only trip to Billings each year.
But as readers mull over this description of what has become a huge part of my life each year, I'll be sitting in front of a computer screen in Havre, monitoring what's going on at the Metra as closely as I can. Thank goodness for today's technology too, because even from home, I'll be able to keep up with the 2013 state tournament results in nearly real time.
Now, for those of you who have grown accustomed to the Havre Daily News' great coverage of the state tournament each and every year, something I'm very proud of by the way, don't worry. We're still in Billings today and Saturday. Sadly though, it's not me.
I decided to take a year off from the state tourney, not because I didn't want to be there or because I'm burnt out, but because our sports writer, Daniel Horton, deserves to cover the big show all by himself for a change.
Since Daniel has been a part of the HDN staff, and we're very lucky to have him, he has covered the Havre High wrestling team all season long, but then, during this week each year, I would swoop in and take the state tournament away. But after several years of great service to the HDN, I decided I needed to give up a little control. I decided he deserves the chance to cover one of the greatest sporting events in Montana, all on his own.
Not to mention, he's a real photographer and come Monday afternoon, when wrestling fans open the paper to see our coverage from this weekend, they'll see great and colorful action photos from Billings, as opposed to my, well, not so great and colorful action photos. What can I say? I am getting better at photography, but typing is still my strong suit.
And make no mistake, this weekend will be a special one. For all the wrestlers, the fans, the coaches and Daniel, too.
The state tournament is the second-largest sporting event each year in the state of Montana. Only the Griz-Cat football game draws a larger audience. And for a member of the media, it's a privilege and a challenge to cover it. Not to mention, it's the single biggest sports media event in Montana each year, and if you're a member of the media and you're not there, you're really missing out.
And that's how I feel this morning. I'm definitely missing out.
By the time this paper hits the streets in Havre, I would have already eaten two or three stale donuts, I'd have a large, ice cold Dr. Pepper in my hand, I'd have watched the annual Parade of Schools and the National Anthem and wrestling would be well under way.
By now, I would have bumped into many people I only see on my annual trip to Billings. Fellow members of the media, including one of Montana's most endearing sportscasters and the Hi-Line's own Richie Melby. Oh, wait, I see Richie all the time actually. But I would have said hello to coaches, friends, Havre fans and many more by this time of the first day of the state tournament.
I'm feeling left out just thinking about it. I hope at least Daniel is already making his own connections and developing his own friendships on the Metra floor today, because that's one of the many reasons why this weekend is so special to me.
But in the end, it's about the kids, and more specifically, it's about Havre High, and wrestlers from all over the Hi-Line. In 10 years of covering the state tournament, I have so many fond memories of watching these kids, in a sport I have so much respect for, do these amazing things. In both triumph and defeat, I have so many stories about heart, dedication, desire and determination from my years of covering the state tournament, I couldn't begin to list them all.
And that's what I'm going to miss the most over the next two days.
In my early days as a sports writer, when I myself was covering the HHS wrestling team full time, I was accused from time-to-time of being biased toward basketball and football. I tried to explain to those people they couldn't be more wrong. A little known fact is, I actually was a wrestler myself, albeit a not very good one. And there hasn't been one state tournament I've attended where I didn't catch myself imagining what it would have been like to be on those mats, wearing a Blue Pony singlet when I was in high school, a long, long time ago.
No. There's no bias here. In fact it's just the opposite. My job allows me to cover and attend the best sporting events Montana has to offer. The Griz-Cat football game. The Frontier Conference basketball playoffs, the Northern C Divisional basketball tournament, and on and on and on. But I can honestly say there isn't one single event I look forward to each and every year more than the state wrestling tournament in Billings.
For me, as a sports writer, and actually as a fan of sports, it doesn't get better than those two days in Billings. And that's why I'm writing about not being there now. That's why I'll be pouting in front of my computer for the next two days while Daniel hopefully enjoys the best of what the experience has to offer.
Like I said before, the state wrestling tournament is it for me. It's one of the best sporting events around, and I'm really going to miss being in Billings over the next two days. And that's why I recommend everyone who's a fan of high school sports should get to Billings at least once. I recommend everybody should see the state tournament for themselves.
It's only Friday morning, and I miss it already.
All I can say now is, is it 2014 yet? Because I'll be there then.