Timber Richberg seemingly had the entire crowd pulling for him Friday at the State AA wrestling tournament.
The Flathead senior fed off the cheers and his own internal drive as he pinned his first opponent in just 55 seconds. It was arguably the most inspirational performance of the tournament as Richberg was wrestling just days after his mother died.
“I went to state last year, and it was a pretty big experience, but this year, actually winning a match, it was just insane. I’ve never felt that way,” the 17-year-old told 406mtsports.com. “I knew my mom was there with me the whole way. I just hope I made her proud and the team made her proud.”
They both surely did. Richberg won his first match at a state tournament in his second trip but then ran into eventual three-time state champ Ethan Deroche of Great Falls. He nearly bounced back from that loss with a second victory before losing out of the tournament in overtime to the eventual fifth-place finisher.
Richberg’s first-round win at 285 pounds was pivotal in helping Flathead leave its home mat with its third team championship in five years. The Braves edged out Billings Senior by 7.5 points, the slimmest margin of victory at the tournament since 2000.
“It was just a special moment,” Flathead coach Jeff Thompson said of the love and support shown for Richberg. “I don’t know that a lot of athletes in that moment would even step on the mat. I think it shows he’s going to be successful in the sport of life.”
Richberg got major help to stay afloat when he was taken in by Jake and Ryan-Kay Berkey, parents of a friend and football teammate. They both showed up to support him at state.
It was quite the comforting experience after Richberg’s mother, Leah Davis, 45, died Monday following a heart attack Saturday, he said. He had been living with his mother and younger brother after his older brother previously moved out, he noted.
“When she was passed away, I was there. It was the most harsh experience of my life, but I’m glad I got to see her one last time before she left,” Richberg said. “I’m glad she’s not in pain anymore and she’s looking down on all three of us.”
Jake and Ryan-Kay Berkey organized a GoFundMe to help raise money for Richberg to attend college next year. It has already raised $20,275 in five days.
In college, Richberg is hoping to study culinary arts or nursing. His passion for cooking, as well as fishing, comes from his mother.
“Me and my mom used to always cook and bake, so I’ve grown to do it,” said Richberg, whose favorite dish his mom made was chicken covered in mayonnaise with breadcrumbs on top. “Nursing, I just feel like I’m a helpful person all the time and I can help people if they need that.”
He fits that nursing mold with a personable nature, positive attitude and enveloping smile.
“He’s one of the most well-loved student-athletes at Flathead High School,” Thompson said. “He always has a smile on his face. He just knows everybody. You look at his GoFundMe, and over $20,000 in less than two days, that just says a lot.”
That money will help as Richberg is hoping to play football in college after being a left guard and center for the Braves. He said he’s been in contact with Muskingum University in Ohio, a Division III school that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships.
Sports have been a way of life for Richberg since his mom got him started when he was 5 years old. He’s played rugby, which he said was his mom’s favorite sport, in addition to football, soccer, track and field, and wrestling over the years.
“Me and her, we were like brother and sister even though she was my mom,” Richberg said.
His teammates have been big supporters, too. It Gaige Winter, the 205-pound sixth-place finisher, who convinced Richberg to try out for the wrestling team as a sophomore.
Those wrestling mats proved to serve as a safe haven for Richberg when he needed it most.
“I just knew she would want me to be here,” he said of why he decided to wrestle days after his mother’s death. “I just think she’d want me to come out here and work my hardest, try my hardest, go to school and keep going on in life.”
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