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Families of Montague wrestling help members through adversities in ‘chaotic world’

From the Maddoxes to the Winkleblacks to many others, those in the Wildcats wrestling family have each other’s backs.

MONTAGUE – Tristan and Savannah Winkleblack are like most siblings: They can be best friends or worst enemies.

“Super pick at each other, but then they’ll be the first ones to cheer each other up or stick up for each other,” said their father, Billy Winkleblack.

Adversities in their lives, including the passing of mother Renee Gerou two years ago, has brought the Winkleblacks closer together. Aside from riding dirt bikes or horses on their family’s 30-acre farm, another commonality has been wrestling.

Many call wrestling a fraternity or a brotherhood. In Montague, where girls wrestling has really taken off, it’s a sisterhood as well.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

When it comes right down to it, Montague wrestling is family and so many families are involved: From Wildcats head coach Kris Maddox, his wife Star and their children; to the Lipkas, Coppesses, Thommens, Aebigs, Frenches, Dyers, Moores, and undoubtedly more.

They’ve all filled their roles or continue to do so. It’s been one, big support group.

In wrestling, the expression “shared sacrifice and shared suffering” is prevalent. And who better to sacrifice and suffer with than “family.”

“When you think about wrestling, it has or is a family,” Kris Maddox said. “Many people don’t realize the time or sacrifices people do for our program, but I see it and it means the world to me. These parents and wrestlers are our extended family.”

The Maddoxes moved to Montague in 2011. Three years later, Kris Maddox took over Montague’s wrestling program.

Wrestling is truly a family affair for the Maddoxes. While Kris is coaching, Star Maddox keeps stats, records video and serves as the “mat mom.” Their sons, seventh-grader Gavyn and sixth-grader Chayse, are towel tappers during Montague wrestling matches.

Montague head wrestling coach Kris Maddox, right, poses for a portrait with his family, including wife Star and sons Chayse, left, and Gavyn, middle, prior to the Randy Jacobs Memorial Duals Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Montague, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Montague alumnus Braeden Kahl, who currently wrestles for Heidelberg University, comes back and helps coach the Wildcats when he’s home. Kris and Star Maddox took legal guardianship of Kahl when he was a freshman at Montague.

The Maddoxes have faced tragedy twice in the last four years. Last May, 23-year-old daughter Kyarra Foster died from complications after pregnancy. In 2019, close friend Eric Scott and Scott’s middle school-aged daughter, Kaitlynn, passed away after they were struck by a farm truck while jogging.

Members of the Montague wrestling family help each other through the tough times.

“With the hardships our family has suffered – the loss of Eric, loss of our daughter – it’s the one thing that helps us get through the tough times. It’s our ‘normal’ in a chaotic world,” Kris Maddox said.

In Tristan Winkleblack’s words, you never know when life might “throw you down.”

It’s nice to have that support system and he feels it in the Montague wrestling program.

“You always need someone to maybe help you pick it up and it’s nice to know that you have your family or your sister to be able to talk to,” Winkleblack said.

“When you’re done with your meet or done with your match, they come up to you and give you a nice pat on the back, tell you, ‘Good job.’”

Savannah Winkleblack interjected: “Yeah, all the parents (do that).”

Montague senior wrestler Tristan Winkleblack hugs assistant coach Andrew Nold during the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Montague, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Kris Maddox & Co. have been trying to grow a successful Montague wrestling program. It’s a process.

Senior Tristan Winkleblack did not pick up wrestling until he was in seventh grade and junior Savannah Winkleblack joined the team as a freshman, but both earned all-state honors last year.

The Winkleblacks have even higher aspirations this season. Tristan is 38-3 in the 150-pound weight class, only a dozen victories from 150 for his career. Savannah is 24-10 at 110 pounds, including 16-1 against female wrestlers.

As a team, Montague sports a 16-9 dual-meet record (4-2 in West Michigan Conference Lakes Division duals). The Wildcats finished fourth in the Lakes Division portion of Saturday’s WMC Tournament at Orchard View, one spot behind the host Cardinals, although those teams wound up tying in the overall standings for the season.

This Wednesday, Montague hosts a Division 3 team district and takes on Orchard View in the first match at 6 p.m. The winner advances to face fourth-ranked powerhouse Whitehall in the district finals.

At the end of the day, success to Kris Maddox is more than the wins and losses.

“I care about these kids in a whole different level and want to see them succeed at life,” he said. “My entire family is invested in creating a positive influence so these kids are able to become something so much more than just a good wrestler.”

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

One measure of success is the relationship piece.

The Maddox family loves when former Montague wrestlers text, call or check in for a visit.

“Wrestling has brought us family and friends. Neither one of us are from the area, nor do we have family close by. Wrestling has brought us family in a sense,” said Star Maddox, whose family gets an up-close-and-personal view as Montague’s wrestlers fight through adversity and hardships.

Gavyn and Chayse Maddox have grown up on the mat, so to speak.

“We’ve always talked about adding kids to our family and that’s exactly what wrestling has done,” Star Maddox added. “We have gained not only a son, Braeden, through wrestling but a whole team of kids. It is our family time together and we truly enjoy it.”

The same goes for the Winkleblack siblings.

Sure, one always wants to have the upper hand over the other. But when push comes to shove, they pull for each other.

“It’s drawn them closer together – going to practices, spending the time together – and I think it’s a good outlet they have to get out on the mat,” Billy Winkleblack said. “They’re proud of each other. They’re always looking at each other on the mats.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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