Wrestling brackets returned to champion 25 years later
| The Hawk Eye
NEW LONDON — Layne Billings thought his state wrestling championship brackets were gone forever.
Billings, who won state championships for Nora Springs-Rock Falls High School back in 1985 and 1986, packed the brackets in a box, a package he thought was lost forever when he and his family moved to Keokuk four years ago when Billings took a job as a vice-principal in the Keokuk School District.
Then, out of the clear blue sky, Billings got an email from New London High School wrestling coach Mark Chiri saying the long-lost brackets had been found.
It was a long, winding and highly-improbable journey, but the brackets are finally back with Billings, who poured out plenty of blood, sweat and tears to earn those brackets 35 years ago.
“I got an email from Mark Chiri, just out of the blue, asking me about the brackets,” Billings said. “My old school district, Nora Springs-Rock Falls (now Central Springs) had contacted me and wanted a copy of the brackets to hang in their wrestling room. I went to look for them and I couldn’t find them. I had to call them back and tell them I had no idea where they were. Shortly after that I got that email from Mark Chiri saying they had found the brackets. The whole thing is just crazy.”
Billings worked long and hard to win state championships, earning the Class 1A 138-pound crown in 1985, then the Class 1A 145-pound title in 1986. Billings went on to wrestling for Nebraska, then embarked on a coaching career which took him to Utah.
“When I was at Tri-County, I coached Shawn Streigel (now Mount Pleasant’s varsity football coach) to a state runner-up finish,” Billings said. “Then I got a teaching job in Salt Lake City and I coached Mountain View High School, a 5A school out there. We wrestled against the Sanderson brothers out there.”
All the while, Billings worked on his Master’s degree, eventually landing a school administrator job which took him to Ames.
Billings hadn’t seen his wrestling brackets in years, but they were safely stowed away in a box.
When Billings accepted his current position in Keokuk four years ago, he and his wife packed up everything and moved. But the box containing the state championship brackets somehow got left behind.
“I must have just forgotten a box,” Billings said. “I had no clue that’s where they were at. I thought they were lost forever.”
When Billings’ house in Ames finally sold, the new owner came across the box, opened it up and discovered the state championship brackets. The new owner was set to throw them away when Dave Weese, a friend of Chiri’s, saw them.
“My friend, who used to wrestle at Benton Van Horne back in the day, he’s a couple years younger than me, Dave Weese. He works at the college in Ames, but he does side work in maintenance,” Chiri said. “A guy bought a house and asked him to put in a hot water heater. The guy knew that Dave used to wrestle, so he said, ‘Hey, I was cleaning the basement out of this house and I found these wrestling charts. Do you want them?’ He looked at them and said, ‘Don’t you think we should give them to the guy that they belong to? They are state championship charts from 1985 and 1986.’ Dave contacted me. He thought maybe I might know him through my wrestling contacts, but I didn’t. So I Googled it and it came up that he’s an administrator in Keokuk. I saw that he wrestled at Nebraska. I got ahold of him down at Keokuk and he said, ‘I wondered where those went.’ He said he would sure like to come and get them. So when my little sister moved to Grimes, I went back to visit her and I got ahold of Dave and went up and got them from his place.”
“I couldn’t believe it when he called me,” Billings said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? You found my brackets?’ I just couldn’t believe it.”
Actually, Chiri’s and Billings’ paths crossed years before, although neither knew it at the time.
“He thinks that he and I coached against each other because he used to coach at Tri-County and us and Tri-County used to wrestle at Highland,” Chiri said.
Billings recently went to New London to the Chiri house to pick up his long-lost brackets. As the two stood and talked wrestling, reminiscing about some of the wrestlers Billings beat on his way to winning two state championships, the memories came flooding back for Billings.
“I sat there with my 12-year-old daughter and she looked at me and said, ‘Those are yours?'” Billings said. “It was nice to just sit there and relax and talk about wrestling. I remembered who I beat in the finals, but I didn’t remember much about the rest of my matches until I saw the brackets again. It brought back a lot of memories, a lot of dreams I had when I was a kid. I was in first grade when I started dreaming of being a state champion. It brought back a lot of memories of my childhood.”
“There are a lot of names on there. Weber and Hammes and Krob. They are all Don Bosco, Lisbon and Sigourney,” Chiri said.
So at long last, after a long and improbably journey, the state championship brackets are back in the hands of the rightful owner, the one who worked long and hard to earn them, who poured out plenty of blood, sweat and tears along the way.
“Having him do that for me was truly a blessing. I really appreciate him doing that,” Billings said of Chiri. “When you put so much hard work and time into something … that was a really big part of my life in high school and college. I am really grateful for Mark doing this so that I could get my brackets back.”
“I thought that was a pretty interesting story that the path they were on. They were in a basement for the last few years. They are kind of beat up, but they are still in pretty good shape,” Chiri said. “It’s kind of a finding your lost dog story.”