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State wrestling tournament a successful continuation for Harlem's Johnson family

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Posted at 3:28 PM, Feb 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-13 17:28:04-05

BILLINGS — Many wrestlers have come out of Harlem over the years. One family in particular has multiple members that have cemented their Wildcat legacies.

It started with Russ Johnson, who wrestled from 1987 to 1991 and was able to set a school record for pins in a season with 28. The record stood for more than 20 years and he knows the wrestler who broke it better than most.

"I had 28 and it stood for 24 years, I believe it was. And then my son, his senior year, beat that with 31," Johnson said.

Not only did his son Brenden Johnson break the record, but was a two time state runner-up as well. He broke the record with 31 pins.

"Well, it was actually pretty cool because the year before that, a buddy of mine on my team actually broke it by one with 29," Brenden Johnson said over the phone. "That was Teague Jones. And then the next year I ended up getting it back. And that was a cool moment for me, you know, to bring the record back to the family."

These days, Russ Johnson's daughter, Kaitlyn, is making her mark for Harlem, having just won sixth place at state.

"She's only done it a few years, no young kid camps or anything," Russ Johnson said. "She's gotten much better and next year, is going to look to beat both our records. It's been fun watching her."

Kaitlyn finished with 27 pins on the year, one short of her dad's record. She hasn't broken her family's record as of now, but she's managed to set her own record in track and field and will be looking to break the family record her senior year.

"My dad didn't think he'd have another wrestler, but it turns out he did," Kaitlyn Johnson said. "So I thought that was pretty cool that we leave our Johnson name up in the school and, you know, make our mark here. I know. I just got to leave everything on the mat, and everything will play its course."

Not only have all three been successful wrestlers for Harlem, they all have the exact same coach guiding them along the way, coach Lyle Faulkinberry.

"I was supposed to be Lyle's last match because he retired for a bit and then came back," Brenden Johnson said. "It's cool that he's coaching multiple generations. I think Lyle's definitely got a big love for the sport. I'm glad he's still doing it. We'll see what next year brings, but I definitely don't want to be teased at Thanksgiving because of my little sister.

"I wish her good luck and we'll see what happens."

Faulkinberry started coaching during Russ Johnson's freshman year and retired in 2015. Now back as an assistant under head coach Johnny Baker, he says he's seen a lot of good wrestling from the Johnsons and said he plans on retiring again after Kaitlyn's senior year.

"I've coached all the Johnsons and it's been fun," Faulkinberry said. "It's been amazing. I had Russ, he came through the ranks and set and broke the school record for pins. Then there was another one. There's Andy Johnson, which was Russ' brother, and he came through as a state placer for me. Brenden came along, was a two time runner-up for us. And then Kaitlyn is making their own mark for herself. Kaitlyn's wrestled great. Lots of growth from her."

With more than 30 years of coaching under his belt, Faulkinberry started with a Johnson and plans to end with a Johnson.