BILLINGS — An old church sits on the corner of a South Side neighborhood not far from downtown Billings. What does it have to do with a young wrestler who recently won a pair of gold medals at the Pan Am Games? More than one might think.
“This used to be the old Guadalupe Church on the South Side. They purchased the property from the diocese and rebuilt it into a fitness center,” Billings Wrestling Club coach Joe Giacomini explained to MTN Sports while seated inside. “So, we have boxing on one side, a nice weight room in the middle and then our wrestling room right here.”
‘Right here’ is where coaches are building wrestling skill and character in young kids — and just over a week ago produced a national champion in Chris Grossman at the Pan American Games in Panama City. Grossman recalls very little celebration.
“I just got up, shook the kid’s hand, grabbed the flag and ran around the mat,” Grossman said on a recent evening surrounded by hopeful kids scrambling across mats at the wrestling club.
“Chris is my first kid, in all the years I’ve been coaching this club, to put on a national team," Giacomini said proudly. “When he won that freestyle and I got to wrap that flag on his shoulders and he got to parade that around, that was the magic moment for me.”
Grossman earned gold not once but twice at 52 kilograms in freestyle and Greco Roman.
“Freestyle, it’s lower body attacks," Giacomini explained. "You can attack the body up or down, whereas Greco is all upper body.”
The other half of Grossman's gold medal success is attributed to longtime friend Danny Green. Both are freshmen at Billings Skyview and have grown up together, pushing each other as hard as you can imagine on the mats.
“They get each other ready. Sometimes it’s a barn-burner fight, but we do the job,” Giacomini said with a smile.
“He’s the best practice partner I could wish for, best in the state by far,” Grossman said.
That’s almost word for word what Green said about Grossman, and Green was certainly glued to his buddy’s Pan Am matches online.
“Me and my dad, we were talking about it and watching it on Facebook Live. I was telling him all week I thought he was going to do great," Green said. "I got a little nervous first match (but) everything we’ve practiced paid off.”
Green himself has twice been involved with the Pan Am Games.
“The first time there I was nervous," he recalled. "The second time, the nerves released a little bit until the last few matches.”
After dismantling his foreign opponents, Grossman admitted the first thing he attacked was dessert.
“When you’re over there they’ve got a room for Team USA and when you walk in there’s a table full of dessert," he said in awe. "I saw vanilla ice cream — and I love vanilla ice cream — so I grabbed that before anything else.”
Just like dessert, youthful energy is contagious inside the busy fitness center, especially with a new champ on hand.
“Our little guys are all ecstatic," Giacomini said. "(Grossman) has been on the world stage now and he had success beyond belief.”
Explaining why dreams of all ages are higher than ever inside the old, rejuvenated church.