BILLINGS — MetraPark general manager Bill Dutcher has worked at all 30 of the Montana High School Association State All-Class Wrestling tournaments.
The event is one of Dutcher’s favorites of the season.
“I told the coaches at the coaches meeting there are two events on the level of electricity on your backbone,” Dutcher said. “And, it’s a tribute to this event and the other is the PBR on CBS going coast to coast.
Wrestlers compete in the championship round of the state wrestling tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
“I love basketball, but you have a break at halftime and get your clock. But, the nonstop electricity of the clown and the entertainment and hoopla, it’s like the pageantry of all-class wrestling. There is nothing like the colors of the mats and the colors from Arlee to Superior and in between. Those colors, on the posters and jackets, it’s exciting.”
Dutcher particularly enjoys the festivities surrounding the start of the two-day tournament.
“That opening ceremony and the parade of athletes from every town,” he said. “If you want to get a lump in your throat. The coaches, parents, wrestlers and national anthem. You just don’t get a more exciting event.”
Wrestlers begin the two-day state wrestling tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark with the Parade of Athletes.
While he is working as the tourney is playing out, Dutcher does take time to observe the matches.
“As it starts narrowing down, I love it,” he said. “I stay to the end each Saturday night to watch the presentation of medals and team trophies and wonderful individual performances.”
While employed at the Metra, Dutcher worked 13 years on the maintenance crew, five years as an event coordinator, six years as operations director and is starting his 14th year as general manager.
At some of the early tourneys, he drove fork lifts to help move the older, heavier mats. Dutcher also drove sweepers and scrubbers that cleaned the floor when the insulation that was used to cover the floor was moved when the mats were broken down between the rounds from 12 to six to three. Now, the mats are only broken down before the finals, and insulation padding isn't used anymore, which has helped save time and make the tournament run faster.
Wrestlers compete in the first day of the state wrestling tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark on Friday.
Dutcher said that in the seven months ice was down at Metra for hockey, the state wrestling tourney was the only event that was ice-free. The reason – ice would have damaged the mats.
The tournament also used to run later into the night and was a four-session tourney and there were sessions where every fan had to leave the Metra and re-enter, Dutcher recalled. Fans would accidentally leave items behind and hopefully they would find them in the lost and found.
“People couldn’t save seats and wanted the same seats they had in the morning,” said Dutcher, noting the practice of clearing the arena stopped approximately 15 years ago and adding that Metra’s concessions offer more variety now.
“Every year it’s has gotten better,” Dutcher said. “It became friendlier.”
Does Dutcher envision another 30 years at Metra?
“I was thinking this morning and thought I would love to be up in the seats,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite events in 38 years at MetraPark.”
— John Letasky
• Hunter Menzien wanted a little bit of revenge.
After falling in overtime to Great Fall CMR’s Kai Stewart last season in the state finals, the Missoula Big Sky sophomore knew he had to wrestle a bit of a different match this time around. Both wrestlers were nearly unmatched by the rest of the Class AA 145-pound bracket — Stewart pinned his way to the finals, while Menzien had two falls and a major decision heading into the championship.
“Coaches always say different styles, different matches,” Menzien said. “We have different styles and anything can happen.”
Menzien got out fast in the first minutes of their bout on Saturday night, scoring two quick takedowns before adding a reversal in the second period.
But Stewart wasn’t done. The CMR senior added two takedowns in the third and tied the match at seven. Menzien, though, immediately escaped to take the lead and fought off shots over the final 41 seconds to secure the win.
“Honestly I think I just put my mind to it that I was going to win the state title,” Menzien said. “It’s what I ended up doing. I wrestled my hardest. It was a great week.”
A strong showing not only for Menzien, but for the rest of the Eagles as well. They finished fourth as a team with 143 points and held off Billings West and Butte to keep hold of the spot.
It’s a five-spot improvement over last season’s ninth-place finish in coach Rick Moreno’s first year at the helm of the program.
“This weekend, actually I thought we would have done a little bit better,” Moreno said. “We still wrestled, performed well. With how many guys we had placing in here, I wasn’t really a surprise … I knew from the beginning of the year we were capable of doing what we did.”
For Menzien, as he stepped off the podium with the 145-pound bracket in his hand and a medal hanging around his neck, the Eagles’ success as a team made his own all the more special.
“It’s everything. I love my team, I love my coaches and I love my family,” Menzien said. “It was just a great weekend for all of us.”
— Jordan Hansen
• Teams bond through different ways.
Some get matching tattoos. Others get matching T-shirts or dye their hair.
Class A state champion Sidney opted for the latter with some team members sporting blonde tops, or more, for the state wrestling tournament.
“Just to have some fun,” said senior Christian Dean.
But the Eagles had been bonding all season.
“We listened to ‘Fruit Salad,’ by the Wiggles,” Dean continued of the popular Australian children’s music group. The Wiggles are bit more popular with the preschool set than teenagers.
“We were tired of listening to the same old music. So we decided on something else.”
— Joe Kusek
• Martin Wilkie became the 34th wrestler in Montana high school history to win four straight state titles, joining good friends Jackson Currier of Colstrip and Michael Weber of Forsyth on Saturday night.
Currier was the 33rd at 138 pounds and Weber No. 35, wrestling at 152.
There will be three more wrestlers — Belgrade’s John Mears, Jake Bibler of Frenchtown and Bozeman’s Leif Schroeder — poised to do the same in 2020.
Wilkie offered some simple advice.
“Just be confident,” he told next year’s trio. “Wrestle every match like you can. Do what you do best.”
— Joe Kusek
• After opening with a first-period pin, Mears followed with a pair of workmanlike technical falls, with wins of 20-5 and 17-2 in the next two rounds.
He capped off his third straight title with a 5-0 win over Bridger Wenzel of Polson for the 152-pound state championship.
Mears' state title was a little painful.
“I came in a little banged up,” he said, motioning to his left side. “On Thursday, the last day of practice, a guy was trying to throw a cradle and one of my ribs popped out. And I’m also dealing with tennis elbow (in his left arm).”
— Joe Kusek
• Forsyth coach Scott Weber was happy his son, Michael, captured his fourth state title.
He is the third Weber brother to win a fourth title, joining Matt (2012-15) and Luke (2013-16). Another brother, Brandon, was a three-time State B-C champ for the Dogies and Nathan was a two-time state champ. Matt, Brandon and Nathan wrestle at Montana State-Northern and Luke is at North Dakota State.
Michael Weber is undecided on what college he will be attending, but wants to wrestle at school.
“Oh, relaxed I guess,” Scott Weber said of his feelings after the match. “Watching the boys go through the process of tots, bantams and midgets and seeing them fulfill their dreams and getting to the top of the podium. It was pretty cool.”
— John Letasky
• Circle scored 102 points on its way to the State C title, which was more than the 80 points the Wildcats scored en route to winning the title last year.
The Wildcats had five state placers.
“We have things we can work on, but I am very happy and tickled to death,” Circle coach Ty Taylor said. “It is the most team points we scored at a state tournament. It was a good season.”
— John Letasky