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View from the Sidelines


February 13, 2020

It all happens so fast; and then it happens again.

During the warmup period before the Western B-C divisional wrestling tournament championship finals, I noticed something that I found interesting – an instance of history repeating itself.

Out there on the mat in Mission, senior Conrad Vanderwall, the seasoned veteran and team leader, and Brady Schrenk, the fresh-faced freshman, were warming up together before their title matches at 138 and 113 pounds, respectively.

While they were warming up, I could see Vanderwall taking pains to point out some little things to Schrenk that might help him out heading into the most important wrestling match of his young life, and could see Schrenk soaking it all in from his master teacher.

Funny thing is, I witnessed basically the same scene only with a few different characters three years ago at the divisional tournament that year.

Vanderwall was the fresh-faced freshman back then and upperclassmen wrestlers Daniel Uli and Josiah Vanderwall (perhaps the single biggest reason Conrad even ever got involved in wrestling to begin with) were the ones out there on the mat with him, the seasoned veterans passing on their gappling wisdom to the next generation.

Although I have seen variations of this process repeated countless times over the years, my observations Saturday seemed particularly poignant.

I remember Conrad back when he was an unsure neophyte to the hard-edged world of competitive wrestling and I now had the chance to reflect on what I had just witnessed over the course of the last four years.

It is kind of the unsaid miracle of wrestling. The transformation of immature girls and boys into responsible, mature athletes who are sure of themselves and their places in the sports world. The students become teachers and the teachers move on into the real world better people for it.

And I witnessed it again with Schrenk and Vanderwall Saturday, just as I had with Vanderwall, Vanderwall and Uli three years earlier.

It all happens so fast; and then it happens again.

The 1979 and 1980 State B-C wrestling champion Thompson Falls Blue Hawks used two versions of their now-famous “Dirty Five” to win those titles.

In 1979, those “Dirty Five,” or last five alive in the tournament Saturday, turned the trick by winning four individual titles and one second place medal.

In 1980, a slightly different cast of characters made up that year’s “Dirty Five,” and while winning only one individual title, had enough other productive players to enable the Hawks to repeat as State B-C team champions, a feat unmatched by any Thompson Falls wrestling team since.

Here are the stories of those great teams’ runs to their State B-C titles.


Forty-one years ago this week, in the State B-C meet in Hamilton, the Hawks scored 118.5 team points to win the school’s first wrestling title and first State team title of any kind.

Thompson Falls qualified only five wrestlers for the tournament that year, and those salty five, who seemed to keep winning match after match, became known as the “Dirty Five” in the coaches room.

Ron Kazmierczak, Steve Davis and Larry Milner won their individual titles via decisions, while heavyweight Shawn Allen, capped the finals round by winning his match by pin, completing an undefeated season and claiming the 1979 State B-C tournament quick-pin trophy.

The other member of the 1979 “Dirty Five,” Mike Fisher lost by decision in the finals and settled for second place at his weight.

Although largely recognized as Thompson Falls’ golden era of wrestling, Plains had a very good team of its own in 1979 and finished second to the Blue Hawks in Hamilton with 102 team points.

Legendary Horsemen grappler Larry Kelly won the 119 pound championship that season while Jeff Betts (105), Jim Marjerrison (126) and heavyweight Mike Reichel all claimed third place honors.

Throwback plus…

Forty years ago this week, at the State B-C tournament in Butte, the Hawks used their second incarnation of their “Dirty Five” to win a second straight B-C crown.

Starting the tournament with seven wrestlers this time, the Hawks were reduced to their “Dirty Five” number once more when 98-pound Ken Brickzin was transported to the ER with appendicitis, and after 119-pound Randy McKenzie was eliminated in the consolation round.

All of which left Mike LaBrosse, Mike Fisher, Gary Hagerman, Steve Davis and Larry Milner to carry the flag for the Blue Hawks, and carry that flag they did.

Although LaBrosse lost early and was forced into a crucial series of consolation matches, which ended with him winning five matches by pin, scoring 20.5 team points and finishing in third place, the other four “Dirty Five” players all wrestled their ways into championship matches.

Although Fisher was the only Hawk able to win his title match, his points, along with those of second place winners Hagerman, Davis and Milner, and the third place LaBrosse was more than enough to spur the Hawks to the team title.

Thompson Falls won the 1980 State B-C crown with 101.5 points, and Arlee and Whitehall tied for second place with 92.5 each.


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