Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Pierre Bibbs
Sports Editor 

Malta welcomes back legendary wrestling coach


December 4, 2019

Courtesy Photo

Malta High School Wrestling coach Steve French at his family ranch.

The Malta Wrestling team welcomed back a familiar face and a local legend as newly re-hired Head Coach Steve French led his first practice on Thursday, November 21.

"I feel good to be able to coach in my hometown," Coach French said. "I think it will be a really gratifying feeling. I hope it goes well. With Choteau, I was in the teaching system and I grew up with those kids. It will be hard to replicate that but I hope that I am more than just an old guy yelling at them. I hope we can build relationships with each other, trust each other and have some success."

French, a 1986 graduate of Malta High School, had been the head coach to the Choteau Bulldogs from 1996 to 2016, where for ten of those seasons, the Bulldogs were top three finishers at state. The Bulldogs won the Class B title once in 2015, finished second five times, and finished third four times under Coach French.

Prior to his time in Choteau, French had coached the Mustangs in the1995-96 season, where he had success coaching brothers Landon and Justin Lamb to state titles in their respective weight classes.

Prior to his coaching career, French had been a state champion wrestler for Malta in 1986 in the 185-pound weight class. He went on to Northern Montana College (now known as MSU-Northern), where he would be named an All-American twice.

It was at Northern Montana College that French would earn a Bachelors' of Science in History and Physical Education in 1991. He did his student teaching in Conrad prior to graduation and went on to take his first teaching job at Shepherd High School in 1992. He also coached the Shepherd Mustangs in the school's first two wrestling seasons.

In 1993, he realized he did not want to teach, he came home to ranch with his father and brothers in Malta. He would coach the Malta AAU team in 1994, before becoming Malta's head coach in 1995.

Despite his success coaching at his high school Alma-Mater, French chose to support his wife by moving to Choteau in 1996.

"I decided to go to teach at Choteau because my stepsons' father was in Whitehall and Choteau was a lot closer," Coach French said. "It was a 750 mile round trip from Malta, and my wife had to take that trip by herself a lot because I had to work."

French would pick up his Education degree again and teach at Choteau Public Schools until 2018, and coach the Choteau High School Bulldogs until 2016. His reason for resigning was again for his family.

"It was mostly so that I could watch my son wrestle in college," Coach French said.

He coached the Choteau Middle School Wrestling team from 2016 to 2018 and eventually moved back to Malta that year in June.

"I got done with teaching and two days later I started working at the ranch and I have been there ever since," French said. "It feels good (to be ranching). I really enjoy being out here."

Content with ranching, French had been summoned by locals to again lead the Malta Mustangs, who had been looking for someone to take on the head coaching mantle due to a resignation from former Head Coach Ryan LaBrie. LaBrie had coached the Mustangs from 2011 to the 2019 season.

"I was persuaded by people to apply," Coach French said. "I'm kind of a hermit and don't do a lot in the community. So, I thought that this was something that I have been good at and something I contribute to the community. Coaching and helping a kid accomplish a goal is about the only thing that really gives me goosebumps and gets my juices flowing."

The French family and Malta wrestling go hand-in-hand thanks to the nostalgic memories of the French family bringing the school multiple titles in their time on the matt.

Steve's oldest brother, Roger French, was the first to hit the mat.

"He is the first one of us to wrestle," Coach French said. "He wanted to start wrestling as a freshman but he broke his leg during football. He started as a sophomore. He got us going."

Craig French was the first to make it to state.

Mark French was the first French brother to reach the finals, placing second. Mark would go on to become an All-American at Northern Montana. Steve, the youngest of the four was the first State Champion.

French's son, Steeler, was the first French to place four times and a two-time state Champion at Choteau High School. His youngest son, Jake, was also a state champion and first to finish all four years in the top three.

Coach French has coached 13 state champions, three of which won twice under his tutelage. Those champions include two timers Tanner Stone, Chase DeBoo, and Raymond DeBruycker. Other champions include JJ Werdal, Jeffrey Werdal, Owen DeBruycker, Ross Moshe, Andy Passmore, Dylan Isakson, Justin Lamb (Malta), and Landon Lamb (Malta).

Coach French shared his coaching style.

"We really want the kids to be offensive in practice, trying new things, realizing that it is practice," Coach French said, mentioning that it is okay to make mistakes in practice. "That is the reason for practice, to get better. If you keep doing the same things, you're not getting better. Really concentrate on giving a good effort and not the wins."

He also said that being in shape is key.


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