Feb 3, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff WriterWhat started with a committed high school wrestling coach trying to build his program 25 years ago has grown into Wyoming's most-competitive and prestigious wrestling tournament.
More than 700 high school wrestlers from every corner of Wyoming will be wrestling at Wolverine Gym at Riverton High School and at Riverton Middle School Friday and Saturday in the Ron Thon Memorial Wrestling Tournament.
It's far larger than the state tournament, and its cross-classification format pits the state's best against each other in a way the state tournament can't.
The event is held annually in the memory of Thon, a four-year wrestling letter winner at the University of Nebraska and a longtime teacher, counselor, golf coach and wrestling coach in Riverton.
Thon died in 1999 after a three-year battle with cancer.
"We think it is an amazing tribute to his career at the high school. It's an amazing legacy that he has left for them and our family. It's a huge source of pride for me, and I'm sure it is for the girls (daughters Becky and Jessi) too," said Carol Short, Thon's former wife who has since remarried.
All Class 4-A teams, all but Buffalo and Newcastle in Class 3-A and several Class 2-A teams will compete in what has become the showcase all-class wrestling event in Wyoming.
"It seemed to grow and grow as Ron sought out more teams to come and participate. It is a premier event. It's "the" event in wrestling in Wyoming. It is a huge gratification to me that it is continued what he started here in a huge way," Short said.
And grown the tournament has.
"We'll run a total of 10 mats to get through the tournament, five at the high school and five at the middle school. This is the 13th year of the Ron Thon Memorial, but it is the 25th year of the tournament. Ron was the guy that this going with four mats," RHS activities director Keith Bauder said.
What makes the Ron Thon Memorial so appealing is that wrestlers from all classes compete against each other. In every weight class, the top wrestlers from the state will battle to win the coveted Ron Thon championship belt buckle and champion T-shirt. A wrestler from a small school such as Rocky Mountain High School could end up in a championship match with a Class 4-A wrestler from giant Gillette -- and win.
"We always talked about how can kids from 2-A compete. Once those smaller schools started coming and seeing success, when a 2-A kid walked in, and out of nowhere, dominated, that is when this thing took off," Bauder said.
Four lower class wrestlers -- Brodey Serres from Lingle-Fort Laramie, Kaleb Hoys from Rocky Mountain, Trent Boner from Douglas and Jordan Hanson from Lander -- won Ron Thon titles last year. Cody Vichi won his first Ron Thon title two-years ago wrestling for Big Piney.
"When you win the Ron Thon, you are the best in the state, not just in your division," Vichi, who now wrestles for 4-A Rock Springs, said.
"We wanted to show that there are studs walking around this state that aren't just Class 4-A," Bauder said.
RHS custodial staff and student assistants have been moving mats for the event since Tuesday, and will use mats from Riverton, Wind River and Shoshoni for the tournament.
Fifteen referees will be officiating either junior varsity matches at the middle school or varsity matches at the high school, and the activities staff at the high school has been organizing volunteers, 70 per shift, to help run the event.
Big local impact
"This is the largest event that we put on. We have our main crew of workers that look forward to helping and take time off work each year" to help, Bauder said.
With wrestlers and their families coming to the area, Riverton and Lander hotels, restaurants and stores benefit from the event.
"Anytime we can bring in more teams, it helps all of Riverton. It brings in quite a bit to the town. We had three teams reserve rooms," said D'Anna Towell, tri-owner of the Sundowner Station motel.
The Ron Thon brings more than 1,500 visitors to Riverton -- wrestlers, coaches, managers, cheerleaders, drivers, parents and fans.
The tournament has become a legacy that Short and her family hope can continue.
"My kids were not very old when this tournament started. Jessi used to sleep on the coats on the stands where we were keeping score on the computers. All the years that Ron worked on having those tournaments, and the parts of himself that he gave to wrestling are being continued, is amazing, Short said.
Wrestling will continue through Saturday afternoon, with championship matches scheduled to begin at approximately 2 p.m. in Wolverine Gym
Get your copy of The Ranger online, every day! If you are a current print subscriber and want to also access dailyranger.com online (there is nothing more to purchase) including being able to download The Mining and Energy Edition, click here. Looking to start a new online subscription to dailyranger.com (even if it is for just one day)? Access our secure SSL encrypted server and start your subscription now by clicking here.