BILLINGS — A dominant track and field athlete and two Billings Senior High athletes with parallel careers won the Midland Roundable Athlete of the Year awards Wednesday night.
Billings West track and field star and soccer player Maddie Brockel was the female winner.
History was then made at the 30th annual awards banquet at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center. For the first time, there were duo winners of the boys award as Billings Senior football and track and field standout Gabe Sulser and all-state soccer player and four-time state champion Bronc wrestler Charlie Klepps were the co-recipients of the award.
The annual awards date to 1989.
“It’s very exciting to win such a great award that represents the city of Billings,” Brockel said, while also thanking the Roundtable, coaches, her family and teammates. “We have so many great athletes, it’s an honor to get.”
For Sulser and Klepps, it seemed to be a perfect fit that they won the award together. They attended elementary school together and competed in the physical fitness tests against each other while in grade school, Klepps told those in attendance. Klepps recalled he tied Sulser in the first year in the shuttle run but in the second year Sulser “blew me out of the water.”
“It’s awesome to be with Charlie. It is really cool,” Sulser, who will play football at Montana, said. “We grew up together and went to the same elementary school. He is so deserving; to share it is unique and a cool deal.
“This year’s group was a super talented year, boys and girls. I felt everyone was deserving. Just to be a nominee is cool. I’m really thankful and thankful for how it turned out.”
Klepps said he’s attended the banquet for a long time and every year was impressed with the quality of athletes, and that this year was no different. He knew for a long time he wanted to be a finalist.
“This is awesome,” Klepps, who will wrestle at Iowa State, said. “I’ve come to this event a lot as a spectator, so I was happy to get nominated. All the athletes, if you get nominated you are pretty special.”
The other male finalists were: Nolan Askelson, football, Senior; Brock Bushfield, wrestling, football, Skyview; and Joey Moore, golf, West.
The other female finalists were: Courtney Bad Bear, volleyball, basketball, softball, Senior; Catherine Follett, volleyball, tennis, West; Payton Meyer, softball, basketball, Senior; and Raegan Steiner, volleyball, Senior.
Both Sulser and Klepps helped their respective teams breakthrough in a big way. Sulser, a speedy wide receiver and this year’s Montana Gatorade Player of the Year, helped the Broncs win consecutive State AA football championships in 2016 and 2017. The 2016 championship was the Broncs’ first since 1979. In 2016, Klepps captured a title at 113 pounds as the Broncs went on to win the State AA wrestling championship for the first time since the first Montana High School Association sanctioned tournament in 1956.
“It’s really cool,” Sulser said of the Broncs capturing the state titles. “When I used to wrestle, we talked a lot about that. Charlie’s dad (Steve) said it’s time for the boys to start winning.”
“There were plenty of Senior High football and wrestling teams that were right on the edge of winning,” Klepps added. “It was really cool to break through.”
Sulser’s older sister, Morgan Sulser, was the female Midland Roundtable Athlete of the Year in 2014. His older brother Ben Sulser was a finalist for the award in 2012.
Brockel has 10 first-place finishes to her credit at the State AA track meet and was a member of the Bears’ state AA track and field championship team in 2016. Among her individual titles are three state championships in the 200 meters and two in the 100, along with the 400 meters crown as a junior. Brockel has been a part of four combined titles in the 400 and 1,600 relays, which includes setting an all-class record in the 400 relay twice.
She earned three letters in soccer and four in track and field. Brockel plans to run track at Montana State.
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard, just stay focused and train right and have a good mindset,” said Brockel of winning a state track title. “It gets more fun and exciting every time.”
Will she be able to add to her haul at the state meet May 25-26 in Great Falls?
“I sure hope so, that’s the goal,” said a smiling Brockel.
Last year’s winners were Braydon Deming of West and Brittanee Fisher of Senior.
The winner of the annual Kathy Maier award was Jalen Wagner of Billings Senior.