Birth of a Tradition: Wrestlers Battle for the Coveted Border Axe
Dec. 20, 2012
Tales of axe’s origin may be tall, but the bragging rights that come along with its possession loom even taller
Written by Madeline Hoag, Oregon State Athletic Communications student assistant
When the Oregon State and Boise State wrestling teams meet up Jan. 5 in Gill Coliseum for the Border War, more than just the schools’ amount of pins, takedowns and decisions will be on the line. That’s because bragging rights for who takes home the coveted Border Axe will also hang in the balance.
Carved out of wood by a former Boise State wrestler, the ‘Border Axe’ is awarded to the winner of the twice annual dual meet between the Beavers and Broncos. This unique ritual started back in 2009 and has changed hands a total of two times, with Boise State winning three-in-a row from 2009-10 and OSU boasting a three meet win streak of its own from 2011-12. The axe means a lot to wrestlers in both programs and carries with it a sense of supremacy in the heated rivalry series.
“It is fun when you have the axe because you get to hold it over their (Boise State’s) heads a little bit and there are definitely bragging rights,” said senior 141 pounder Mike Mangrum. “I don’t think we had the axe one time before I got here, but we have had it for the past year and I am pretty sure we are going to keep it for a while.”
When Oregon cut their wrestling program following the 2008-09 season, Head Coach Jim Zalesky started thinking about what other schools on his team’s schedule could become its natural rival. Boise State seemed like a good fit for a number of reasons, but especially because the seventh-year head coach went to college with Bronco head coach Greg Randall.
“It has just become a natural rival for us,” Zalesky said. “There are a lot of guys on the team that know the Boise State wrestlers because they are from the same area and have wrestled in the Northwest. Most of them have known each other for quite a while so they have had that rivalry going, some even from before high school.”
That rivalry has carried over into the Division I level, where both the Beavers and the Broncos have been dominant for the last decade.
“At about the last eight or nine Pac-12 championships, it has either been Boise State or us (OSU) coming away with the win,” Zalesky explained of the two programs’ dominance. “We have been the two teams in the Pac-12 that have really stepped up.”
The rivalry became even more meaningful in 2009 when coaches from both schools brainstormed and decided that the winner of each Border War meet would receive a trophy. Enter the coveted Border Axe, which since the 2009-10 season has had the winner of each meet written on the back of it. That means five times a Boise State marking, and on three occasions an OSU writing. In Nov. 2010 the two schools ended up with 18-points apiece, meaning the axe stayed in the hands of the previous winner, the Broncos.
According to Oregon State assistant wrestling Coach Kevin Roberts, there is a legend about the axe, which says its handle was carved out of century old wood found somewhere in the Hell's Canyon Basin, located on the Oregon-Idaho border. Legend also has it that the axe’s head was carved out of rock sediment from the Snake River.
All legends aside, Coach Randall said the creation of the axe fell into place when one of his wrestlers offered his wood working skills to make the trophy. And it’s when the Broncos have the axe in their possession that they keep it above the TV where the team watches film to prepare for upcoming meets.
“The wrestlers probably don’t think about it too much until they see it on the opposite team’s bench,” Randall explained. “They definitely know about it and we want to keep it here (Boise) year round.”
The wooden man-made trophy sits in a similar position when it is in Corvallis, where it has resided since Nov. of 2011, and that is above a door way close to the entrance of the OSU wrestling office.
During each Oregon State and Boise State dual meet, one of the wrestlers on the team that currently has the axe carries it out and holds it up for the crowd. Whenever the Beavers travel east to Boise, the Blue and Orange faithful usually boo because the Beavers have the axe that their school created. When the meet is back in Gill, it’s the Orange and Black fans’ turn to make some noise for the touted trophy.
“On the mat, we don’t really like them (Boise State),” said Mangrum. “Off the mat we are all friends because I know a lot of those guys personally. They are one of the teams we always want to beat every year.”
While the Border War does draw a large crowd and is a major national wrestling rivalry, Coach Randall believes it could be bigger and draw more fans and national attention in the coming years.
“It is probably the biggest out west,” Randall said. “There are other rivalries that are just enormous and unbelievable, putting nearly 15,000 people in one place. I don’t know if that will ever happen here, but it is starting to go that way.”
When the two teams met for their first dual meet of the year on Nov. 24 in Spokane, Wash., Oregon State walked away with a thrilling 21-16 victory that came down to the final match.
In a wrestling rivalry which is considered the ‘biggest in the west’, both teams expect a big crowd to fill historic Gill Coliseum, Jan. 5, which will be the season’s second installment of the Border War. That rematch will determine who gets to keep the axe as well as the bragging rights that go along with it throughout the following spring, summer and next fall.
“It is a pretty big honor,” Mangrum said. “There are things higher up on the list than just bringing home the axe, but if we can bring it home another year, then that would be great.”
Tickets to home Beaver wrestling events can be purchased online by going to beavertickets.com or by calling 1-800-GO-BEAVS. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Oregon State ticket office inside Gill Coliseum, which is open from 9a.m. - 5p.m., Monday through Friday.
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