BILLINGS — More than 900 wrestlers and even more fans from all across Montana jam packed the First Interstate Arena at MetraPark this weekend for the state wrestling championship competition.
“It is a celebration of the state … These people are fighting to be in the finals … wanting to get out there and just represent their towns, their areas, the best that they can," said Suzette Castillo, whose kids were wrestling in the competition.
The sport is said by wrestling fans to have deep roots in Montana.
"It goes back in history to all of our dads, and our uncles, and everybody who created Ronan, Sidney, (and) Laurel … All my uncles were state champs, I was, and now my kids will be," said Rocky Cote, whose daughters wrestled in this weekend's finals.
Those roots, often times, intersect and intertwine with one of the big sky state's most well known symbols — agriculture.
“I’m not saying anything bad on the city boys, but I mean, them ranch boys, they wrestle a little bit harder, a little bit different. They’re a little bit meaner," said Cole Becker, a spectator, rancher, and former wrestling coach.
He said agricultural lifestyles often lend themselves to unintentional and additional workouts through regular ranching chores, which better prepare wrestlers growing up on farms, than their more urban and suburban competitors.
“You got a lot of those farm kids that just have a lot of natural strength from doing all that farm work," said Chris Graham, who wrestled in this weekend's competition.
While agricultural backgrounds may provide a competitive edge, parents, coaches, and competitors said wrestling embodies a statewide resilient brawn that makes Montana great.
“Montana has strong kids, with strong work ethic, and just that ‘don’t give up’ kind of spirit … you might not be on the winning side today, but you’re gonna come back stronger and harder tomorrow," said Castillo.