BILLINGS — Little did Guy Melby know that when his Sidney Eagles wrestling team competed at the Fairview High School gym on Friday night that it would be a historic win.
The Eagles had decided to wrestle in Fairview because two wrestlers hail from the town located 11 miles northeast from Sidney on state highway 200.
Senior Easton Hopes (182 pounds) and freshman Gordon Knapp (103) are from Fairview, but wrestle with the top-ranked Eagles program as part of a co-op.
Many of the youth and middle school wrestlers in Fairview also compete with the Sidney AAU and middle school programs.
“We just decided Easton has been with us since he started wrestling and we wanted to have a home dual in their hometown,” Melby said. “It was the first time we’ve done it. It was kind of cool. There were quite a few people there. The town enjoyed it and our fans from Sidney were there as well. It was good.”
With much of the state experiencing bitter cold recently, Sidney officials made a decision to haul the mats to Fairview on Thursday, when the temperatures reached minus-28 degrees. Melby estimated it was negative-20 when the dual between Fairview and Miles City started at 4 p.m. on Friday.
“We just hauled the mat over in a trailer,” Melby said. “We have our own trailer with mats in there. We stuck it in there the night before. It was so darn cold, we thought it would freeze.”
Sidney, seeking a fourth straight State A championship, wound up with a 62-6 win over the fourth-ranked Cowboys.
However, it wasn’t until Saturday when the Eagles hosted a mixer when those involved with the Eagles wrestling program realized Friday was special in more ways than one.
When the Eagles were in their wrestling room preparing, Melby said he realized it was his 600th career dual victory as coach of Sidney.
“We have a dual record board, a state placing board and a divisional record board in our wrestling room,” Melby said. “Every year we have our record from 1986-87 all the way to 2020-21. We accumulate it every year. I didn’t think about it until I got home and we had a mix and match on Saturday and then we realized it.”
Overall, the 59-year-old Melby has a career 600-149 (.801) dual record as coach of the Eagles in his 35 seasons.
According to the Montana High School Association record book, Jeff Nagel of Corvallis holds the dual meet coaching victories mark of 338-74-1 from 1993-2015. Melby was listed in second place with a mark of 302-63-0 from 1986-2007. Jug Beck of Missoula Sentinel was listed with a record of 301-142-5 from 1955-1991 and Jim Street of Butte had a mark of 256-22 from 1976-1995. The statistics found in the MHSA record book are user-submitted.
Nationally, Bruce Bittenbender of Stevensville Lakeshore in Michigan leads the list of active coaches with a mark of 940-264-2 from 1971-2020, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations record book. Only 12 active coaches have more than 600 wins, according to statistics found on the NFHS website.
Among all-time coaches, Bittenbender ranks second for dual wins behind Rex Peckinpaugh of New Castle (Indiana), who had a mark of 1,001-300-3 from 1982-2019. Only 33 coaches are listed with more than 600 career dual victories all-time, per the NFHS record book.
“We just go to work every day and try to get better every day. We aren’t wrapped up in wins and losses, but are trying to get better,” Melby said. “It was a shocker, 600 there it is. When you get to 400, 500 or 600 not many people have got to that pinnacle. That’s a highlight.
“Not that I’m into records, but that is kind of cool for our program. It shows how committed our community is towards Sidney wrestling. Anybody who has been through the program in the last 35 years has a lot to do with the 600 wins.”
This year, Sidney is 24-0 in duals and the seniors on this year’s squad have only lost one dual in four years of competition. That loss was to Post Falls, Idaho, at the season-opening Sidney Eagle Invitational when they were freshmen. The Montana mark for consecutive dual victories is 112 by Butte from 1981-89.
This season, the Eagles have shut out their opponents eight times, and in two other competitions, Sidney’s only losses were forfeits at 113 pounds, said Melby.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, regular-season competitions have been either in a dual or mixer setting to aid in social distancing. Tournaments have not been held during the regular season.
“Our average is one or two losses for each one of those duals,” Melby said. “We’ve been fairly dominant as far as duals go.”
The Eagles have also won 11 state titles under Melby, with eight second-place finishes and four third-place trophies. Sidney has also won 23 divisional titles under Melby’s watch.
“We have 11 (state titles). Hopefully in a couple weeks it will be 12,” said Melby, noting the State A tourney is in Miles City March 5-6.
The Eastern A divisional will be held at Sidney Feb. 26-27.
As the postseason, which Melby calls “payday,” nears, the Eagles hope to hone their skills and maybe create a little more history.
Last year Sidney featured seven state champions, eight finalists and 15 placers on its way to 340 points to eclipse its own Class A scoring record. The previous year, the Eagles had set the mark with 310.5.
This year, many of the Eagles believe they can become the best team ever assembled at Sidney, which is saying something as the Eagles have the aforementioned 11 state championships.
“That’s their goal and it’s a lofty, lofty goal,” said Melby, a Sidney native. “We had seven state champions last year and their goal is to beat that and we had 15 state placers last year and their goal is to beat that. If they do that, they have a legitimate argument to be the best team.”