Justin Hinson remembers clearly the first time he stepped on a wrestling mat as a fifth grader.
“We were in Corvallis and they called all of us who were novice 95 pounds to line up against the wall,” he said. “They picked me and a kid from Salmon and he started crying all the way down the stairs and to the mat. I pinned him pretty quick and then I started crying because I won my first match. I was so happy.”
Eight years later, Hinson is a senior captain of the Hamilton High School wrestling team and emotions still run high every time he competes.
“Justin doesn’t quit. He never gives up,” his father Jerry Hinson said. “He doesn’t like to lose, so he trains every single day.”
Justin recently shaved his signature moustache but said his mantra hasn’t changed,
“My dad always told me that ‘to beat the best, you have to be the best and train like the best,’” he said. “And I always say, ‘you can’t grow a moustache in a day and you can’t win a state championship in a day.’”
Hinson’s sights are undeniably set on a state championship. He finished fourth as a 160-pound freshman and third as a junior at the state competition in the 205-weight class even though he was 10 pounds lighter. His sophomore 33-3 winning-streak was cut short by a car accident in Hamilton.
“Two weeks before divisionals, we were rear-ended by a woman who was texting and driving,” Jerry said. “It wiped his season and he wasn’t able to go to state that year. He really got jacked because he probably would have taken state since he’d pinned everybody that year.”
Justin said he doesn’t remember anything between the memory of the impact and waking up in the emergency room at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital.
“To wake up in a neck brace, well, I was upset,” he said, “because my first thoughts were about wrestling and I knew I was done.”
Jerry added, “He took it like a champ and went and supported his teammates at every practice and the meets. He was bummed out like anyone would be, but he worked himself through it.”
Justin said after finally received clearance from his doctors to workout again. He spent all summer before his junior year lifting weights and learning jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts training at the MMA Dog Pound in Hamilton. His MMA success led to impressive wins at regional and national meets.
“All that extra mat time really helped me with wrestling,” he said. “I had a head start to the season.”
Jerry said he’s been encouraged by his son’s growth, “He’s ready to do well at the 205-weight class,” he said. “He’s grown this year, physically and otherwise. He’s good to go.”
Justin admits after his injury as a sophomore and his third place finish last year, “This year, I’m looking for revenge,” he said. “It’s in my head and I want to do my best all the way to the end.”
Coach Chad Williams is optimistic for Justin as well as the entire team.
“This is one of the toughest teams that Hamilton has had in our tenure as coaches,” he said. “We have a solid lineup from top to bottom, highlighted by seniors Justin Hinson, Manny Rivera and sophomore Michael Golden. We have great leadership with our seniors and wonderful team chemistry.”
Williams said most of the Hamilton wrestlers have been with his program since Little Guy Wrestling.
“That’s an important thing for any wrestling program,” he said.
Coach Jayme DePee added his praise, “Justin is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever met. Wrestling is his sport but I’ve heard he’s thinking about rugby in the spring and if that’s the case, rugby in Montana is going to get a valuable addition. We really appreciate his dedication around here.”
Last week, nine teams participated in the Hamilton Invitational where Hinson pinned all three opponents. Last night, Hamilton competed against valley rivals Stevensville and Corvallis.
“It’s hard to project what will happen during a season, but I am confident that if we can stay healthy and avoid injuries we will be very competitive with this team,” Coach Williams said. “This team works very hard every day and they show improvement every time they wrestle and that is what I want to see as a coach. They are very eager to condition and train and a desire to win.”
When not at practice, Justin is already helping train young wrestlers by teaching classes on Wednesday evenings at the Dog Pound. He aspires to wrestle in college and study wildlife biology or forestry.
“Without wrestling, I honestly don’t know where I’d be,” he said. “My sister and my dad are my biggest fans and motivation. My coaches are always willing to teach and spend the time to make us better. They’re fun to be around and they love the sport so they give it all their heart and soul.
For them, everything revolves around wrestling this time of year, so they want me to do well and not just on the mat,” he said. “If we’re struggling with grades or struggling at home, our coaches are always there to help you. I’ve got lots of support.”