Cory Johnston seems like a pretty good fit to take over as head wrestling coach at Butte High.
He was born in Butte in 1985, right in the middle of Butte High’s state championship run and just five years after his dad Mark won the state Class A 112-pound title for Butte Central.
Four years later the Johnstons moved to Ekalaka, where Cory went to kindergarten and Mark worked as a teacher and multi-sport coach.
“But they didn’t have wrestling in Ekalaka,” Cory explained. “My Dad was stuck coaching basketball.”
So when a coaching/teaching job opened up in wrestling-happy Glasgow, the Johnstons made another move. Mark Johnston went on to coach the Scotties for 17 years, leading the squads to five state wrestling titles along the way. Two of the championship years were special for the coach, as sons Cory and Mark each won individual titles in the 2001 and 2002 seasons. The 2002 run was doubly special, as each Johnston brother went 41-0 en route to their titles.
“I certainly recognize the wrestling tradition in Butte,” Johnston said. “I’ve been around that with my family, and my Dad is a Butte guy who coached me. Both individually and team-wise, one thing that always stood out was that when we were having success in Glasgow, the Butte press always covered it well.”
The Johnston brothers — Mark is a year older than Cory — continued their wrestling careers at NAIA Dickinson State. In 2007, both wrestled at 125 pounds and both were ranked nationally coming into the NAIA National Wrestling Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. Cory lost to the eventual runner-up in the round of 16 and Mark lost a tough match to the fourth-ranked wrestler in the round of eight. Cory then won, setting up a match with his brother.
The brothers had wrestled each other just weeks prior for the regional title, with Mark coming out on top after three overtime periods.
“We were all sitting in the stands, feeling distraught about the situation,” Mark Sr. wrote at the time. “Neither wanted to face the other in the bout that would determine who would be an All-American.”
They talked about flipping a coin, but Cory had come to a decision. He was a junior and his brother a senior, and said he didn’t want Mark’s last match of his career to possibly be a loss to his younger brother.
“This … made me feel more proud than if (Cory) had won a National Championship,” Mark Sr. wrote. “This takes a special kind of person.”
“That was an easy decision, not a fun decision,” Cory recalled. “He was a senior and I was a junior. I knew my time was coming, but I didn’t dwell on it. He deserved it as much as I did.”
Cory went on the next season to place fourth and secure first-team All-America status.
After graduating Dickinson State with a math major, a history minor and a teaching certificate, Cory said he was “in limbo.” That changed when Mark Sr. resigned his position in Glasgow to take a principal’s job in Ronan. Cory took over the open teaching position in Glasgow and went to work as an assistant for his father’s previous assistants. In his four years with the team, the Scotties racked up another couple team titles and boasted four-time state champion Luke Zeiger.
In 2012, after the Chiefs moved from Class A to Class B, the head wrestling coach job came open, and Cory seemed like a pretty good fit for the job.
“I got a chance to come in and use some of the things I learned,” Johnston said.
When the Butte High job opened, Johnston was interested, to say the least. His wife of six years, however, wanted to be sure that the move would be the last for the couple and their two boys, a 2-year-old and another who was born last Thursday.
With extended family still in Butte, Johnston has spent plenty of time in the Mining City, including summers as a youth.
“We’ve come to Butte plenty,” Johnston said. “But we had never looked at it as a place we were going to live forever.”
The family made a quick trip to town before accepting the job, looking at housing, schools and Butte High School itself, and the couple was sold.
“Butte High is an old school, but it’s certainly not lacking in technology,” Johnston said. “We liked the schools for the kids, and I was kind of given the ultimatum that this had better be our last move.”
Johnston hopes to hit the ground running, and has been in contact with Activities Director Chuck Merrifield in getting summer camp dates set.
“We’ll get some kids in and kind of do a thing for all ages,” Johnston said. “It will give me a chance to get to know people and will also be an opportunity for them to get used to my coaching style. Then as the school year starts we’ll see who is doing what and get some of the guys wrestling.”
Johnston said he understands the importance of keeping close ties with the local wrestling club.
“I’ll be coming in fresh,” he said. “It’ll be a learning thing, but I know it’s important to make connections with the club.”
As far as a staff of assistants, Johnston said he’ll “see who’s around and see who’s interested.”
And though Johnston hasn’t lived in the Mining City since he was a child, he’s excited to be back among his extended family in Butte.
“I’ve got grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, just about every bit of family you could want,” he said.
Certainly, it seems like a pretty good fit.