I spent a little time at Butte High Wednesday afternoon, mostly to watch some of the challenge matches in the Butte High wrestling room.
By way of explanation, challenge matches determine the varsity lineup for wrestling teams from week to week. Wrestlers who make challenge weight, generally within a few pounds of the weight class, get a chance to earn a varsity position by defeating the current wrestler in that spot. Of course, the challenger must win twice to bump the incumbent.
It’s almost cliché now that challenge matches are some of the best ones to watch. Wrestlers who spend hours working with each other every day know how to exploit each other’s weaknesses also know how to avoid their opponent’s strengths.
Especially in the days before the current state tournament format which allows teams to take two wrestlers at each weight, challenge matches in the Butte High wrestling room were absolute brawls. During the heart of Butte High’s team title run in the 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon to see a defending state placewinner on the junior varsity lineup because there was no place to break into what was then only 12 weight classes.
The Bulldogs don’t have the numbers they did in the 80’s yet, but they’re moving in the right direction. First-year head coach Jim Bob Humphrey still has around 45 wrestlers on the team roster, despite a brutal conditioning program.
I haven’t spent much time in the wrestling room lately, so my trip on Wednesday had a slight hiccup. I walked all the way through the school, past the auditorium and down to the cafeteria before I remembered the wrestling room isn’t there anymore. I’ve been through Butte High a lot lately and know where the new wrestling room is, but I must have walked to the old one hundreds of times, and habit brought me back.
By the time I made the trip back through the school to the new practice room, the challenge match between Jarret Rowling and Gage Weston was already about half over. The two were battling for the JV spot at 135 pounds, as sophomore Levi Renz had already claimed the varsity position. Teammates who spend as much time around each other as those two don’t pull any punches in vying for a position in the lineup.
It was nice to see things haven’t changed in challenge matches.
One of the best things Humphrey did when he got the head job at Butte High was surround himself with assistant coaches who have proven knowledge of the sport. Consider Eric Dunmire (4x champ), Cole Dallaserra (4x champ), Josh Robinson (2x champ), Nick Haynes (1x champ), Tyler Garrison (1x champ), and you see there’s a pretty good track record of experience.
And then there’s the guys – and gals – who are coming back to Butte High to give a little back, as well as get in a little bit of a workout. On Wednesday, Philadelphia Eagle defender Colt Anderson hit the Butte High weight room with former Bulldog and current Montana Grizzly Jake Dallaserra. Former Bulldog star Jaimee Paffhausen joined the girls working out in the softball open gym, as she has most every day during her break from studies at the University of Montana.
“It’s something Arie (Grey) said,” Humphrey said. “Come back and give back. These are some people who have worked hard for their success and they’re reaching out to the kids. They have a great work ethic and I think they’re comfortable coming back here.”
It’s fun sometimes, too. When Jake Dallaserra came into the wrestling room and picked a match with his cousin Cole, focus came off the challenge match at hand and landed on the former Bulldogs who haven’t lost the urge to compete and scrap.
Cole came out on top of the battle, but he had to work for the edge. Jake, who is biding his time on the Grizzly sidelines, says he plans on earning a starting role, much like his weightlifting partner Wednesday did a few years back.
I enjoy coming back to my alma mater, but I’m not much help for the kids anymore. Five minutes of the work they’re doing now, and I’ll likely be headed to the emergency room.
– Pat Ryan’s column appears here from time to time. Contact him at email@example.com.