When Peter Montour told Howard S. Billings High School that he wanted to start a wrestling team, he was told the school didn’t have a mat, but that didn’t deter him.
Now, four years later, the Billings wrestling team is heading into the 2023 Greater Montreal Athletic Association (GMAA) season, with Montour as head coach, with two wins and one loss in the women’s competition and undefeated in the men’s.
At last Wednesday’s meet, the men’s team defeated Westwood High School 45-20 and Massey Vanier 34-25, while the women’s team won against Westwood 20-15 but fell to Massey-Vanier high school 11-18. They were also set to face off against Heritage Regional High School, which forfeited their matches.
The competition took place at Billings, and Montour said that it’s important to him for the athletes to have the opportunity to wrestle in front of their friends and family with all the excitement that comes with it. The next time the Billings team will have the home crowd advantage is at the GMAA championships on February 16.
Montour coaches the team alongside his son, Otiohkwanoron Montour, and Jordyn Goodleaf in the corners.
Last year was the team’s first year back on the mat since the pandemic. “Suddenly we had an explosion of really well-developed student athletes who tried out wrestling and they excelled at it,” said Otiohkwanoron.
“A good portion of our team is from Kahnawake just as we expected,” he added.
The 2021-2022 season, which Otiohkwanoron called “a developmental year,” faced disruptions because of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, but he said the number of student athletes on the team has doubled since then.
Part of this growth is due to the coaches’ promotion of the team at Billings through pictures on the television screens at the school.
Kahnawa’kehró:non Kash Diggs, who is new to the team this year, joined after seeing a poster for the team. “It keeps me in line really well, keeps me on a straight path,” said the grade nine wrestler.
The team also has some returning athletes, like Charlie Divita, GMAA silver medalist who also ranked sixth at the Canadian championship and Tristan Sears who won a silver at nationals.
Peter sees wrestling in the community as an “ecosystem.” He says they’re focused on trying to bring grade seven and eight students onto the team to ensure the Billings team keeps the momentum it’s building. Peter invests a lot of time in developing young athletes, but also new coaches, like Goodleaf, who is fully certified at just 20 years old.
“We help support the other teams that are struggling in order to keep the sport happening,” said the head coach.
“If those kids don’t have an opportunity to go and wrestle, then they’ll never get that opportunity to stand on that podium at the Olympics,” he continued.
For the Montours, wrestling is a family affair. Peter’s daughter, Sarah, also used to help out with the team before becoming a mother.
But this feeling of family extends beyond the Montours and is felt by the team, too.
When asked about his coaches, Diggs said, “they’re good people, they’re like family to all of us. They’re like our father, uncle, brother, practically. They teach us to be respectful… It’s a good point of view for all of us.”