Duane Olson Enshrined in the Montana High School Association Athletic Hall of Fame

 

March 9, 2022

Virginia Olson receives a plaque from Montana High School Assistant Director Kip Ryan at a ceremony held at Big Sandy High School February 5 to recognize the induction of her son Duane into the MHSA Athletic Hall of Fame. Family, friends and many wrestlers were on hand to pay tribute to the Big Sandy Pioneer legend.

Local Chinook resident and centenarian Virginia Olson was on hand recently as her son Duane was finally honored for his enshrinement into the Montana High School Association (MHSA) Athletic Hall of Fame. The ceremony was held Thursday, February 3 at the Big Sandy High School Gymnasium. Duane became the Pioneers very first inductee into the MHSA Athletic Hall of Fame. Joining the family in honoring Duane and paying respect for his numerous contributions to Big Sandy Pioneer Athletics were many friends, former wrestlers and Pioneer supporters.

Olson was selected for enshrinement back in 2020 and originally the presentation of his Hall of Fame Plaque was supposed to take place during the Big Sandy Homecoming (All Class Reunion) the summer of 2020. Due to Covid-19 protocols the Homecoming was postponed until 2021.

As the new year rolled around, it soon became clear that in 2021 the Pandemic was still causing cancellations and disruptions and this led to the Homecoming being canceled. The Homecoming committee ultimately rescheduled the event for a couple years down the road. The family was asked if they would like to wait until the next Homecoming, but with the realization that Virginia was 100 years old they decided to hold the ceremony sooner than later.


Montana High School Association Athletic Hall of Fame

The Montana High School Association was founded in 1921. The idea was to provide a governing body that would serve all member schools and their participation in Interscholastic Activities in Montana. In 1993 the MHSA inaugurated its first group of athletes into the newly formed MHSA Athletic Hall of Fame.


The MHSA wanted to recognize and pay tribute to those athletes whose efforts and contributions to high school athletics in the state of Montana best exemplified the spirit of competition. In the 101 years since the formation of the MHSA, well more than 100,000 student athletes have participated in MHSA sanctioned athletic activities. Duane's class of 2020 pushed the number of athletes enshrined in the Athletic Hall of Fame to 94.

To be included in the MHSA Athletic Hall of Fame is the highest honor a student athlete can receive in the state. Of the 94 inductees the Class AA contingent stands at 39, 24 inductees represent the Class A, 17 members come from the Class B ranks while just 14 student athletes participated at the Class C level.


The Class of 2020 was the 16th Induction Class. The MHSA Athletes Hall of Fame Inductees go through a nomination process that consists of two categories, "Modern Era" and "Old Timer." The latter representing nominees that graduated more than 50 years prior to the selection process. Duane was part of the "Old Timer" category.

The MHSA Executive Board wanted to revise the way inductees were recognized for this prestigious award to allow for a more personal ceremony for each inductee and their family.

Originally each new class was recognized in a ceremony held in conjunction with the MHSA Annual Meeting. The MHSA Executive Board made the change recently to a ceremony that friends and family can organize themselves in the inductee's local community at a time and place that is more convenient for supporters and attendance can be maximized. The MHSA also dedicated a page on their website, mhsa.org, that is dedicated to new inductees.

The Class B and Class C represent the smallest schools in the state and the Big Sandy Pioneers have been a big part of it since the start. While enrollment at a Class B/C school may be the smallest, the number of schools has for many years doubled, tripled and even quadrupled the number of participating schools in the larger classes. Often times wrestlers like Duane would compete against athletes from these larger schools. In most years the Class B/C represents the largest number of student athletes participating in MHSA Athletic competition.

Duane's High School and Collegiate Career

Duane was a three sport star for the Pioneers excelling in Football, Track and Field and Wrestling. Duane was extremely athletic and excelled on the track and in the field but it was on the mat where his passion lied. He was a three time Montana State Wrestling Champion for the Pioneers, winning titles at 145 pounds his sophomore, junior and senior seasons (1965-67) going undefeated each year.

High School wrestling in these days awarded team trophies to the top three schools in each classification (AA, A and B/C). Individually wrestlers from all classifications competed in a single tournament for each weight class. In claiming his three state championships Duane defeated wrestlers from Great Falls, Billings and Missoula in the championship match. At the state tournament his senior year Duane led the Pioneers to a State B/C Championship and a fifth place overall finish. He was also named the Tournaments Most Outstanding Wrestler.

Graduation wasn't the end of Duane's wrestling career as he continued to shine on the mat for Iowa State University. He wrestled for the Cyclones on a full ride scholarship and made Ames, Iowa his home for two years. Duane competed in the Big 8 Conference Tournament where he finished fourth. His sophomore year (1969) he competed in the NCAA National Tournament where his team won the National Championship.

Duane competed with the very best while in Ames, his teammate and wrestling partner was none other than wrestling great Dan Gable. Gable is a wrestling Icon, regarded by most as the very best in the history of the sport, a legendary coach and mentor as well as an Olympic Gold Medalist. He was also a friend to Duane.

Duane's niece Tami Schoen reached out to Gable after receiving word of his induction into the Hall of Fame and asked for a few words from Dan to be used during the plaque presentation. Gable responded with this message for the family, "Having great wrestlers in one wrestling room plus of course good coaches to go to for help makes Championship teams. Championship teams were the result. Myself, taking advantage of these greats, including Duane Olson helped me and others go to even higher accomplishments like Olympic Gold. Duane was one of the nicest young men I've ever been associated with. Congratulations to all for his honor!"

Duane's mother Virginia turned 100 years old back in October of 2021 and was amazed by the award he was now receiving, "It was such a great honor that he would be recognized for his wrestling accomplishments, especially after all these years have past." Virginia was moved by the whole ceremony, "I'm extremely proud of Duane and everything he did. I'm thrilled to still be here at 100 years old and to be a part of the ceremony. It brings back so many memories, it was really amazing."

Duane's sister Mary Lou Butcher stated that it was Randy Cline that got the ball rolling as far as Duanes induction into the MHSA Athletic Hall of Fame. Mr. Cline is a former Big Sandy High School Alum and was a high school wrestling coach for many years while working at Frenchtown High School. "Randy contacted the family back in 2019 about how we the felt about submitting an application for Duane to be nominated for induction," said Mary Lou. "We helped Randy gather some of the information needed for his nomination but he did the majority of the leg work. Randy got the letters of recommendation from a bunch of people and submitted the nomination."

Time went by and early in 2020 the family was notified, "Kip Ryan, the MHSA Assistant Director, called and let us know that he was accepted into the Class of 2020," stated Mary Lou. "We were overwhelmed that such a thing could even happen, especially for a kid from Warwick, Montana. To get that far and to be recognized for his wrestling accomplishments seemed surreal."

Mary Lou went on to say, "The ceremony was organized by Melanie Schwartzbach, the Big Sandy High School Athletic Director, she made all the arrangements, she set up the gymnasium so kip could be there and we all really appreciated that. To see all the people there that showed up, especially after 50 years was really amazing and it meant a lot to the family."

In addition to the amazing ceremony and all the people that were on hand to recognize Duane and honor him for his many accomplishments the family was moved by another gesture, "Jim Ray was Duane's best friend in high school and Jim and his wife Marla have set up a scholarship at Big Sandy High School," said Mary Lou. "The criteria to receive the scholarship is that the recipient has to have to participated at the state level in three sports, so it won't be given out every year. Jim and Marla want to make sure that the scholarship is always a prestigious award. That's a big thing to us, it's another legacy for Duane to be remembered by."

Duane's brother Merle was a year older than him, but relished the three years he got to wrestle with him in high school, "What an honor, I'm so proud that he got to be recognized for all his hard work and dedication. He accomplished so much in his on the mat, an inspired so many along the way. I wrestled with Duane for three years in high school and we were very close, so for him to get this honor means so much."

This past February in Billings at the All-Class State Wrestling Tournament Duane's family was on hand to watch his Great Nephew Tyler Schoen compete for a state title. Tyler, a junior for the Chinook High School Sugarbeeter wrestling team added another chapter to the family legacy by winning the Class B/C 170 pound State Championship.

"I was 10 years old and was their when Duane won his third state title," said Mary Lou. "I remember being at Great Falls Central High School and watching Duane win and get his arm raised and how special the moment was. To be in Billings and watch Tyler get his arm raised as a state champion brought back so many great memories. It was a special moment for everyone their.

Duane Olson went undefeated and claimed three state wrestling titles for the Pioneers his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, 1965-67. Olson went on to wrestle at Iowa State, helping the Cyclones win a NCAA National Championship in 1969.

Big Sandy High School has a 'Wall of Champions" display in the foray outside the gymnasium that includes a nice tribute to Duane and his accomplishments. Mary Lou stated that the family has donated Duane's trophies, awards and certificates to be included in the display.

 
 

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