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Wrestling Reborn in Bigfork
After more than a decade, the high school wrestling team is back on the mats in Bigfork
Bigfork’s Shade Youso, left, and Nate Stewart practice. - Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
BIGFORK — Bloody noses. Bumps and bruises. Plenty of sweat.

The cafeteria at Bigfork Middle School is filled with ruckus most nights as 12 young men rebuild a tradition of toughness and skill. While the gymnasium remains home court for the high school’s basketball teams, this is the site of a reborn wrestling program, a team rising from the ashes after more than a decade away from the mat.

Wrestling is back at Bigfork High School. After disbanding the squad in 2003 due to low numbers, the school brought back the sport last summer after an organized effort campaigned for its return.

Josh Feller, a math teacher who grew up wrestling in Glasgow, lobbied for support from the school board with the help of others, including the strong Little Guy Wrestling Program run by Kelly Rieke that boasts roughly 50 young grapplers. A school-wide survey found students were strongly in favor of adding wrestling, and the board went along, also adding girls swimming, per Title IX rules. With approval, Feller and his staff of assistant coaches and supporters were tasked with raising $12,000 for the upstart program, which they did throughout summer. The school’s booster club helped buy singlets for meets, and the old basketball warmups are being used, but with a new distinct wrestling patch on each one. The old mats from the the past were dusted off and now are unfolded in the cafeteria for nightly practices.

A month ago, Bigfork hosted its first dual meet in more than a decade. Last week the team hosted another meet at the school against Mission-Charlo. Although the Vikings lost 48-6, it was another step forward for a group of largely inexperienced grapplers.

“The one thing I can say about every loss that we’ve had, we haven’t made the same mistake twice. They’re constantly learning, and that’s more exciting than going out and winning tournaments right now,” said Feller, the new head coach. “Day in and day out, they’re learning something new and applying what they learn.”

When the first practices were held in November, the team began with more than 20 participants. But pretty quickly, the wear and tear of wrestling, plus its hardy attributes, shrank the roster. Today there are 12 young men competing.

“I was worried that they would realize how hard it is and that we’d lose a lot more,” Feller said. “I’d much rather have a group of 12 who really want to be out there than a larger group who is just going through the motions.”

Nate Stewart, a senior in the 145-pound division, never wrestled until now. Two weeks ago he picked up his first two wins. Others, like Vinny Quirk and Riley Meyer, competed in the sport when they were younger but didn’t have the opportunity when they arrived in high school.

“It’s exciting. After 12 years we finally got the program started,” said Quirk, a junior competing at 182 pounds. “We’re a bunch of young wrestlers and we’ve got a lot to learn but we’re coming along great.”

Bigfork High School head coach Josh Feller instructs Damon Maitland, left, and Gunnar Boose as they work on technique during practice. - Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon


“I was hesitant to join at first because I hadn’t wrestled since Little Guy,” Meyer said. “But I decided to try it and once I did, I’m really glad that I did it.”

The team is learning the hard way and has suffered some quick, overpowering defeats early on. The first home match was against Eureka, the fifth-ranked team in the state.

“It’s difficult, with everybody being new with the whole experience,” Feller said. “They needed to go out and have some hard matches and they have, but they’re growing."

Feller described the wrestlers like balls of clay that he hopes to mold into Bigfork’s style of wrestling, “aggressive from the get-go and strong defensively. Our goal is to wrestle three periods hard every match.”

Bringing back a tradition can be challenging, but the team has discovered it has the whole-hearted support of the community behind it. The boys found that out while walking in the town’s holiday parade after Christmas.

“It was just crazy seeing all the people cheering for these guys,” Feller said. “That’s what I like to see. We’re a basketball school but we are getting recognized for the hard work these guys are putting in.”

The Bigfork wrestling team is hosting a dual meet against the Flathead JV on Jan. 31. It will be senior night for the Vikings.
 
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