GREAT FALLS — Several Motanans have reached the highest levels of the wrestling world as athletes and coaches.
Great Falls legend Bill Zadick won a world championship, while Mike Zadick and Missoula’s Gene Davis competed in the Olympics. Sidney native Brandon Eggum is currently the head coach at nationally ranked Minnesota, and Division I programs across the country are dotted with Montana athletes.
But not many wrestling officials have climbed the ladder to be mat side for elite competition. Conrad Duffy of Great Falls is changing that.
“We got the best seat in the house. Especially at a place like Penn State or Nebraska,” Duffy said. “All the venues are great. You walk out in a place like Hawkeye Carver, you got people yelling and screaming and fireworks. It can be surreal.”
After working his way up through the high school and NAIA ranks, Duffy got his break with the ACC conference six years ago. After a one-year stint with the Southern Conference, Duffy joined the Big 10 where he just up his fourth season as a wrestling official.
With blue blood wrestling programs like Iowa, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Minnesota, it’s easily the top wrestling conference in the country.
“For example, in the 2022 Big 10 championships, I got to call the 184-pound title match, which was Aaron Brooks from Penn State and Myles Amine from Michigan,” Duffy recalled. “Myles Amine was a bronze medalist the year before at the Olympics. And Aaron Brooks is a three-time defending NCAA national champion. So when you get those two guys on the mat with each other, it's just explosive.”
The Big 10 flies Duffy to big events on a weekly basis during the season. His schedule in the winter can be grueling.
“In January, I was home eight workdays. I was home on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and then you're on a plane Thursday and calling a match Friday and flying into a different venue on Saturday and calling a match Sunday,” he said. “I do make some money doing it, but I can’t quit my day job either. So if you didn't have your family on board with it, it would be a lot harder road for sure.”
But it’s rewarding. And it sets a good example for other up-and-coming officials from Montana and beyond.
“With me getting the opportunities that I have gotten, the hope is that can pull up a young guy that has similar aspirations and show him that if you put in the time and you put in the work, you’ll get a chance to have those same opportunities,” Duffy said. “That's the biggest source of pride for me is getting our officiating pools to grow and have that recognized as something that we need and that it's an honorable thing to do.”
Though he travels the country and officiates some of the biggest matches each year, Duffy will always make time for the Montana wrestling community. He still picks up the occasional high school assignment around Great Falls and is instrumental in coordinating officials for Montana’s two NAIA programs, if he’s not already reffing the duals himself.
“He still does our events here in town. If we need something from him or if we need him, come talk to our kids and explain how something's working in sport. He'll make time for it,” said Providence wrestling coach Steve Komac. “So he's working at a very big stage, and yet he's still making time for us locally here in Great Falls. And that's pretty awesome.”
Duffy has worked the Big 10 championships, the NAIA championships and the NCAA Division II championships. He hopes to eventually work the NCAA Division I championships someday, but since each conference only sends a small number of officials and he’s still relatively new to the stage, it’s only a matter of time.
But Duffy is happy where his career is at. He’s content being invisible on the mat, but wants to share his story to inspire others to follow their dreams.
“If you told me 6-7 years ago that I was going to be where I'm at now, I probably would have scoffed at you. I’ve just been been really fortunate to have the opportunities, and learn from some of my mentors and idols,” Duffy said. “As an official, you get in there. Call it right. Stay out of trouble and move on to the next one without anybody noticing you. And I've been lucky that way.”