When the Hill family left Laurel on Saturday morning, it wasn’t any different than their normal weekends have been lately.
They were off to another youth wrestling tournament. However, this isn’t just any youth wrestling tournament and the three Hill brothers were looking to pick up some victories.
The ninth annual Montana Open began at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark on Saturday and continues Sunday. Nate Hill was a Montana Open champion last year and Caleb Hill won the tourney two years ago. Eli Hill placed fifth last season.
The three brothers are the sons of Mike and Jodi Hill and wrestle for the Laurel Mat Burners club. Mike Hill is a volunteer coach with the club, which has approximately 75 members. Of the 75, 42 were competing at the Metra.
“As a coach, you can’t ask for three better kids,” said Mat Burners assistant Angelo Rivera. “And there is a fourth one coming. He (Aiden) is only two and we are afraid of him the most.”
On the season, Mike Hill said Nate (eight years old, 54 pounds) is undefeated and has won the Stillwater, Darkhorse, Heights, Renegades and Huntley Project tourneys.
Eli (six years old, 46 pounds) claimed first at the Darkhorse and placed in the top four at every other tourney he wrestled. He was an AAU state folkstyle Tot champion last year.
Caleb (10 years old, 77 pounds) has claimed first at four meets and second at one.
“It’s good competition,” Caleb said of the Montana Open. “It is competitive, which is fun and teaches you mentally.”
“It is cool,” added Nate.
Mike Hill, who played football and participated in track at Laurel High before graduating in 1994, said the family enjoys wrestling season, which for them started in the middle of January and ends next week in Butte at the state AAU folkstyle tourney. Caleb may participate in the AAU Grand Nationals at Montana State Billings June 12-14.
Mike Hill, who is not related to Laurel High School wrestling coach Ted Hill, said there are a variety of reasons why his boys enjoy the sport.
“That’s a good question. Some days they don’t want to do it and other days, the thrill of competition when they go for the win (drives them),” he said. “Sometimes they do it to please their dad. I didn’t wrestle, so we’re not a wrestling family that way. They enjoy the one-on-one competition. The only reason why a person can fail is yourself.”
Caleb said his favorite move is the switch because “it is easy to do for me and really nice from getting out on the bottom.”
When asked if his brothers make the perfect practice partners, Caleb smiled and said, “No, they are too small.”
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The tournament set a participation record for the third straight season with 1,596 wrestlers registered as of Saturday. Last year at the Metra, tournament director Jason Wiers said 1,418 wrestlers competed. The year before when the tourney returned to Rimrock Auto Arena after a one-year stint in Butte, the previous record of 1,284 wrestlers was established.
The tournament has been held at Metra in all but three years of its existence. The Montana Open, a folkstyle double-elimination tourney, was held in Bozeman for its first two years before moving to Billings for the next three. When a tornado damaged Rimrock Auto Arena in June 2010, the Open was held in Butte in 2011 before coming back to Billings.
This year, wrestlers from Montana, Washington, Idaho, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and New York were entered. Wiers said the event gets “tremendous support” from the AAU and USAW organizations in Montana as neither group holds a wrestling tourney the weekend of the Open. He said the Montana Open will return to Metra next season.
“I just think the reputation of the tournament is growing and promoted by the other clubs,” Wiers said. “They are talking about starting an Idaho Open modeled after this. People like the idea of everybody coming together and the facility helps, too.”
The folks at Metra are happy with the tourney and value their relationship with the Montana Open. They said the tournament is great for the youth wrestlers involved, the Metra and business in Yellowstone County.
“This is exciting,” said MetraPark general manager Bill Dutcher. “And that leads into the success of the huge, wonderful all-class wrestling tournament that is one of the highlights of the year at MetraPark.”
“It is very exciting. This is the future talent for high school wrestling,” said MetraPark event coordinator Robert Trimble. “Not only are there boys, but girl wrestlers who expand the sport.”
Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy said the wrestlers and their families “love to stay at all the hotels and swim and all the amenities there are in Billings. And we love having them.”
Darryl Bozeat of the No Limits club from upstate New York brought one wrestler, 18-year-old, 220-pounder Mike Murray, to the tourney. There would have been a few more from New York, but injuries prevented those wrestlers from making the trip. The No Limits club had brought 3-4 wrestlers to the tourney three years in a row. Bozeat is a fan of the tourney’s format and Rimrock Auto Arena.
“It’s one of the best facilities I’ve been in. The number of mats (stands out). Most facilities get eight or 10. To have 12 mats is awesome,” he said. “It’s a great deal. I wish we had more facilities like this back home.
“They do a great job with the number of kids they have and it is professional. We see kids we don’t normally see and it is ran like a national tournament and runs smoothly.”
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Bozeat said the reason the No Limits club started coming to the Montana Open was because of his relationship with Bozeman Hawks club coach Chris Coyne, who was a high school friend of his in New York.
For the past four years, Bozeat has given a series of clinics while in Bozeman. This year’s clinic started two weeks ago and sessions were held on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
“We give the kids a flavor of East Coast wrestling,” he said. “It’s a little different. Wrestling is wrestling, but each area has its forte.”
The plan next year is to bring more students from grades 6-8 to the Montana Open Bozeat said.
“The youth level here is outstanding,” he said. “The size of the brackets for 15 and under is huge and it’s good to get quality matches.”