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Ronan coaching legend honored at duals

Without a doubt, wrestling is Dave Edington’s life.

The man who started a legacy of state wrestling champions at Ronan High School was honored Friday as the 47th annual Western Montana Duals now boasts Dave Edington’s name in front of it. Ronan’s assistant wrestling coach Hap Cheff made the presentation at the start of the two-day tournament.

“My dad was on his first team, and I was on his last,” Cheff said.

Edington, now 71, was Wyoming’s first four-time state champion in high school, going undefeated his entire career.

A March 14, 1960 article in Edington’s hometown newspaper, the Saratoga Sun, claimed young Edington was “strong, fast and smart — a combination rarely found in a high school wrestler. He has what you call a wrestling instinct.”

Edington continued to wrestle in college at the University of Wyoming.

He used his wrestling experience to start Ronan High School’s first team when he was hired to teach in 1968-69 school year. Dr. Joe McDonald, former president of Salish Kootenai College, was the high school principal at the time and wanted the school to have a wrestling program. 

“He was the driving force behind it, and he wanted me to coach. I told him, no, I wasn’t interested in coaching,” Edington said. “He was supposed to coach, but he was a lot smarter than I was, and he got me coaching. And it worked out really well for me. I was fortunate to have him as an ideal mentor.”

During his years in Ronan, Edington coached 33 individual state champions and eight team championships. 

How good is that?

Only two other teams boast more all-time state championships: Class AA Missoula Sentinel and Class A Butte. In his 20 years heading up the Ronan grapplers, Edington held the record for most team wins for all classes in the state, earning seven Montana Wrestling Coach of the Year awards. Twice he was runner up for the national award, is a member of the Montana Coaches Hall of Fame. 

Excellent coaching led Edington to be involved with the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal as coaching training staff and the administrative staff to help host wrestling games in the1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. 

In his first year at Ronan, Edington also helped organize AAU Wrestling — the first AAU wrestling program in Montana and the U.S. — and in 2002 was inducted into the AAU National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Orlando, Florida, for his longtime efforts.

Edington claims his toughness came from being raised in a blue collar family, where he was considered at-risk, living at near poverty level, he explained.

And he was the youngest child in the family.

“My older cousins had started wresting and I thought it was kind of cool,” he said, but “being the baby of the bunch, I needed to toughen up. Everybody else was going to kick my butt.”

He and his older cousins created a makeshift boxing ring, charging a nickel to walk in.

“I kind of got the heck kicked out of me,” he said.

He spent his summers baling hay and building fences for weeks at a time, while his friends were swimming and playing ball — which made him a bit envious as he tried to “keep up doing a man’s work” at age 7.“But on the other hand, being outdoors was kind of special with my dad. I appreciate the work ethics he taught me,” Edington said.

Accepting the honor at the start of Friday’s namesake tournament was “kind of embarrassing, to be real honest with you,” Edington said. “I have often stated that the awards, trophies and acknowledgement I have received aren’t nearly as important as the relationships built. Certainly, without the kids, my coaching career wouldn’t have been anything. The kids were willing to pay the price as well.”

Ronan was an ideal community for Edington, because he could help create opportunities for kids that grew up much as he did.

“I really like the dynamics of teaching and coaching here,” he added.

Ronan’s ninth state team wrestling championship came under different leadership in 1991, which makes Ronan third for consecutive state titles (1978-82). 

Under the initial leadership of Edington plus subsequent coaches, individual wrestlers have also made their mark along the way as Ronan continues to be prove they are a powerhouse team.

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