Ryan Brown (from left), tournament director Matt Wolcott and Nick Scott roll out the first of the mats that will eventually cover the La Grande High School gym floor in preparation for this weekend’s annual Muilenburg Wrestling Tournament. CHRIS BAXTER - The Observer
Volunteers make annual Muilenburg Tournament a hit with wrestlers, community
Ask anyone who has spent some time around La Grande wrestling and they will tell you that the Muilenburg Tournament is one of the best-run and most competitive tournaments in the state of Oregon.
The 35th annual Muilenburg gets under way today at La Grande High School, with more than 20 teams and 300-plus wrestlers from around the region taking part.
And while it’s the wrestlers who garner most of the attention, there is a lot going on around the mats that is just as important to the tournament’s success.
“There is a lot that goes into it,” tournament director Matt Wolcott said of running the Muilenburg.
“We have to make sure we have enough people in the right place at the right time. Each year gets a little better.”
Wolcott has been the tournament director for the past five years. Prior to that he coached the La Grande wrestling team from 2002 to 2007 before taking over the LHS football team.
“When I resigned to coach football, Klel Carson asked me to be the director,” Wolcott said.
Putting on a tournament the size of the Muilenburg takes a lot of volunteer time and effort, but the Muilenburg doesn’t lack for support.
“We try to get people with wrestling backgrounds or who have been around wrestling. A lot of parents of current or former wrestlers volunteer,” Wolcott said.
But considering the history of the tournament, it’s not hard to see why so many people are willing to donate their time.
The Muilenburg Invite was named in honor of Brian Muilenburg, a 1976 graduate of La Grande High School, who died in a tragic auto crash in August 1978.
Muilenburg was a Tiger grappler who went on to wrestle collegiately at Oregon State University.
Muilenburg’s mom, Anna, has handed out awards at the tournament named in honor of her son in nearly every year since its start. She will do it again Saturday night.
“She’s an amazing person,” Carson said.
The tournament was run by former LHS assistant wrestling coach Fred Arnst, along with help from the Lions Club, until 2004, when Arnst stepped down.
Arnst said that volunteers have always been an integral part of the tournament.
“The Lions Club did a lot. They sold tickets, manned the head tables.”
Frank Everidge was one of the Lions Club’s volunteers who has helped out at the Muilenburg for the last 10 years. Even after the club stopped participating in 2005, Everidge has continued on.
“Frank is a guy that not a lot of people know about, but who is a big help,” Wolcott said.
“He does all the software stuff. He enters all of the wrestlers into the computer, builds the brackets. It’s a lot of typing and a lot of time. It’s really helpful having him.”
“When the Lions Club disbanded I was the only one who knew how to work the computers,” Everidge said of why he has stuck around.
Everidge’s daughter helped out at the tournament by keeping stats, but she graduated last year. Even so, Everidge will be manning the computers again this weekend.
During the last three years a new wrinkle of the Muilenburg has developed.
Dr. Jason Kehr, a chiropractor in La Grande, has donated belt buckles handed out to the winner of each weight class. Wolcott estimated that each buckle costs more than $100.
“Dr. Kehr has been a big supporter,” Wolcott said.
“Kids come here wanting to win one of those buckles.”
Wolcott said that in recent years the tournament started using six mats instead of the four that it used to use.
This has helped speed the tournament up, but it also requires more hands in more places.
“There is just a lot of people involved. If you don’t have people who know what they’re doing it creates a lot of problems in keeping the tournament going,” Wolcott said.
“We don’t take any breaks.”
Wolcott said that the tournament is also a benefit to La Grande in general.
“It pulls in a lot of people. You have people coming in and staying in hotels, buying from local businesses. It’s a great showcase for the community,” he said.
But at the end of the day, the wrestling is the thing that really matters.
“We still try to build up the wrestlers and make the tournament about them,” Wolcott said.
The wrestling action will kick off today starting at 4 p.m. It will pick back up at 9 a.m. Saturday and run all day.
The cost of the tournament is $8 for a two-day pass for adults and $5 for students. For a one-day pass it is $5 for adults and $3 for students.
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