BILLINGS — Mickey Mahlmeister has been hired as the head girls wrestling coach at Billings Senior, Billings Public Schools activities director Mark Wahl announced on Tuesday.
Girls wrestling is in its first season as a Montana High School Association-sanctioned sport, and the Billings Class AA schools — Senior, Skyview and West — have seen higher-than-expected turnout. That prompted School District 2 to recognize the need for a head girls wrestling coach, who was originally slated to coach the girls from all three schools. However, Wahl said that plan changed, and the district will now be seeking separate coaches for all three schools.
"After reviewing our situation, we determined that it would be best to not hire a district-wide coach," Wahl said in a media release. "The dynamics of practice, especially during COVID, as well as getting the girls equal opportunities from the coach, made it difficult to develop job requirements for a district-wide coach. We will be working with Skyview and West to plan for the hiring of coaches at their schools."
Mahlmeister will lead the girls program at Senior, becoming the first head girls wrestling coach in Billings. He has been a volunteer coach at Senior, as well as with the Darkhorse Wrestling Club.
"I think it’s awesome. I think that there was girls out there the whole time that wanted to get into wrestling that maybe not necessarily wanted to compete against boys," Mahlmeister said in a phone interview with MTN Sports. "This gives them the opportunity to have their own wrestling events where they’ll compete against other girls and see where they stack up with the talent in the state."
Mahlmeister has a long history with wrestling, starting with his youth in Tempe, Arizona. He wrestled all four years of high school before becoming a two-sport athlete at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. He qualified for the NCAA Division II national wrestling championships three times and was an All-American offensive tackle on the Marauders' football team.
Mahlmeister moved to Billings after graduating with degrees in nursing and business administration, and has been involved with the Magic City wrestling scene for seven years, coaching the Darkhorse Wrestling Club at the AAU level and volunteering with coach Josh Beeman and the Senior High program.
"My relationship with coach Beeman is awesome, that’s actually what’s brought us to here," Mahlmeister said. "After we had that AAU state girls wrestling tournament here in Billings and we hosted as a club, ever since that moment, coach Beeman’s kind of been in my ear. I’ve got a daughter that wrestles, I’ve got another that’s interested in wrestling. He’s always been in my ear, kind of, ‘Hey, do you want to help get this program going? I don’t know where it’s going to go, I don’t know what we could really tell you is going to happen next year, but do you want to be a part of building this up?’"
Now, Mahlmeister will get his opportunity to lead a program as one of the first girls head coaches in the state. He said 20 girls signed up for wrestling when Senior started practices in early December and about 16 have consistently been at practice for the past three weeks. The girls and boys wrestling teams have been sharing the mats at Senior, and that will continue to be the case, even with two head coaches technically running two programs going forward — Mahlmeister coaching the girls and Beeman coaching the boys.
"We’re co-coaches," Mahlmeister said. "I’d say we’ve got a great friendship there, great communication. We will run the practices together. The girls will practice with the boys. Girls will typically pair up with girls when it comes to wrestling and drilling, but there is that time and there are girls out there that have the talent to drill with the boys, they have the talent to wrestle live with the boys. If the girls are comfortable doing that, then absolutely we’re going to do that."
"At the end of the day, wrestling is a very, very high-demand sport, so you’ve still got to put them through the workouts, you’ve got teach them the techniques, you’ve got to get them a great foundation on the techniques of wrestling, you’ve got to get them a great foundation on the scoring of wrestling and the rules of wrestling," Mahlmeister added. "I think the biggest difference (between boys and girls wrestlers) at this point is girls will have a knowledge deficit of those things, so we’ll have to teach those things to these girls, bring them up to speed hopefully as quick as we can. At Senior right now, we’ve got a great group, a solid foundation of girls that are picking these things up, they’re just absorbing this knowledge. I think once they have that knowledge and that base and that foundation, then we’ll just move forward instructing wrestling, building the team and competing."
While the coronavirus pandemic has already altered the starts of the winter sports seasons — and will continue to affect their schedules and protocols with different guidelines throughout the season — Mahlmeister said that wrestlers are well-equipped to deal with increased sanitary guidelines because they already face rigorous safety protocols. Mahlmeister himself has had plenty of experience working within COVID-19 guidelines as an operating room nurse in Billings.
"A bunch of stops and starts; telling us when it’s OK to operate and when it’s not," Mahlmeister said of some the pandemic effects. "I think this COVID thing is something to be taken serious. I think we are taking the right measures, and I really hope that it ends so that we can get back to normal life. It’s obviously affected my job being a nurse, and it’s affected this wrestling season with guidelines that we have to meet during practice and guidelines that we’ll have to meet during competitions."
The 2021 wrestling season will be limited to duals and two matches in a day, which will eliminate many of the state's largest high school events, including the all-class state tournaments that are typically held in Billings. Instead, the state tournaments will be held at separate sites the weekend of March 5-6, 2021. The sites and formats are yet to be determined.
"I’m excited for this, man. I really hope that the state of Montana’s excited for a new breed of student-athlete," Mahlmeister said. "I’ve been to multiple tournaments, AAU tournaments — Arizona; Reno, Nevada; Denver, Colorado; down in Wyoming — and these girl wrestlers like to get after it. They walk around with their hair braided, they’ve got that gym bag strapped across their back, they’ve got headgear strapped to that. I hope Montana’s excited to see that walking around our campuses and around our gyms."