They're coming to Billings from all directions.
Wrestlers from coast-to-coast are in town for the Amateur Athletic Union Grand Nationals Wrestling Championships Thursday through Saturday at Alterowitz Gymnasium on the campus of Montana State Billings.
Wrestling will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday and Friday, with an 11 a.m. start time on Saturday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 437 wrestlers were signed up to compete in folkstyle wrestling, 329 in freestyle and 285 in Greco-Roman.
Wrestlers from 21 states will be competing. States represented are: Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Tennessee, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Idaho, Maryland, Washington, Mississippi, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Michigan.
National AAU Pairings Director Karen Wilson of Michigan was pleased with the number of participants registered and said “that’s a good variety,” of the amount of states represented by wrestlers.
Tournament co-director Dan Elser of the Renegades Wrestling Club in Billings said he expects at least 500 wrestlers will be registered in folkstyle before that discipline is contested Friday. Freestyle wrestling is Thursday and Greco-Roman closes the tourney on Saturday. Elser noted participation in the tournament is up dramatically over last year’s event in Santa Fe, N.M.
“What I am excited about is we have so many kids doing all three styles,” Elser said. “I thought we wouldn’t have very many in Greco, but we do.”
Elser explained that Billings will also be hosting the tourney in 2014. He said it is a goal of the local committee to “put the Grand back in Grand Nationals.” The tournament is one of the oldest wrestling tourneys in the nation. Elser said participation in the tournament has dwindled since 2007, in part due to the recession.
“We wanted to increase the number of wrestlers so kids have somebody to wrestle against and to have a good experience,” Elser said. “Hopefully then they’ll tell everybody this is a good tourney to come to and they’ll come back next year with others.”
Tournament co-director Bryan Emborg of the Darkhorse Wrestling Club in Billings said eight mats will line the Alterowtiz Gymnasium floor for folkstyle and six for Greco-Roman and freestyle. Emborg said between 1,000-1,200 fans are expected to watch the folkstyle wrestling.
Emborg said the staff of MSUB has been extremely cooperative.
“MSUB has been very willing to work with us and given us everything we have asked for,” he said. “They are always willing if we have questions and concerns. They will open their facility for us and we definitely appreciate what they have done for us.
“For us, trying to build the tournament to what we want it to be someday Alterowitz is a perfect venue. It is not too big, but at the same time it is not too small. We will have room to do what we want to do, but At the same time it will have a big-tournament atmosphere.”
NOTES: The last time the tourney was held in Billings was 1999 at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. … Senior AAU mat official Pete Bolanis of Ohio is working the tournament. … General admission for ages 13-plus is $15 per day or $35 for three days. Tickets for those ages 6 to 12 are $10 a day and $25 for three days. … The parade of athletes is at 8 a.m. on Thursday.