Ty Rainforth’s love for the outdoors runs deep.
The senior from O’Neill likes to hunt, fish, trap and help his dad, Monte, on the ranch. He’s also a pretty good wrestler. He won the Class C 132-pound state championship last year as a junior and has a chance to be O’Neill’s second four-time state medalist this weekend at the state tournament in Omaha, where he’ll compete at 138 pounds.
According to his head coach, Bryan Corkle, Ty is difficult to score on. Always has been.
“He scrambles so well and always seems to find a way to be on top,” Corkle said. “You very rarely see him at a disadvantage. He turns disadvantages into his advantage on a regular basis. He’s calm and focused. He’s what we call a gamer.”
Unlike most wrestlers, Ty doesn’t have a pre-match routine. He doesn’t even listen to music prior to stepping on the mat.
“I’ve just never been a guy who goes out and puts headphones in,” Ty said. “I just kind of get in the zone, and once I’m in the zone I’m ready to go.”
Ty was perhaps in the zone last year during an elk hunting trip in Montana, too. He and Monte were with a family friend, Jason, who was showing them around a sprawling snow-covered ranch just south of Great Falls. It was on that trip that Jason learned something about this small-town high school wrestler from north central Nebraska.
While on the ride, something caught Ty’s eye against the vast whiteness of Big Sky country.
“We’re driving along in a pickup, and Ty’s sitting in the backseat and my buddy and I are sitting in the front driving across this beautiful ranch,” Monte recalled. “Ty says, ‘What is that up there?’ We got a little bit closer and he yells out, ‘That’s a badger!’ And I said, ‘By gosh, that is a badger.’ Then he goes, ‘Can I go catch it?’ My buddy about fell out of the pickup and he looked at Ty and said, ‘Are you crazy?'”
Crazy might be Ty’s middle name when it comes to the outdoors and the wild animals that inhabit it. While hearing someone express a desire to catch a live badger with his hands may have been a first for Jason, it was nothing new to Monte. After all, this wasn’t his son’s first rodeo. He’s gone on catch-and-release adventures many times before. There’s a bridge near O’Neill that kids like to jump off of into a pond. Ty likes to do that, too, except he does it with the intent of catching muskrats.
“He’ll go swimming in the pond and just have his nose and eyes sticking out of the water,” Monte said. “He’ll sneak up on a muskrat and just snap it right out of the water, scruff it like a cat and just look at it for a while and then let it go. He just loves the challenge of catching those things.”
Said Ty: “They (muskrats) bite pretty good. I was kind of scared on that one.”
It’s all about the thrill of the hunt—that’s why Ty wanted to catch that badger in Montana. So Monte gave his son the green light to start the chase while the two watched from inside the pickup.
As Ty trudged through the snow toward the badger, back in the pickup, Jason turned to Monte and said, “What’s he thinking? He’s going to get hurt.'” Monte replied, “Well, it’ll just happen once and he won’t try to catch another one.”
Ty wanted to try his hand at catching live badgers after seeing videos of other people doing it. For many, that doesn’t sound like the greatest of ideas. Adult badgers can grow to 30-35 inches in length and weigh an average of about 12-16 pounds. Some can even get over 20 pounds as they prepare for winter. Their claws are long, too—about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches. When cornered, badgers get mean and dangerous in a hurry.
When Ty eventually caught up to the animal, a wrestling match of sorts broke out—bad news for the badger.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna give him a fifty-fifty chance of catching that,'” Monte said. “I wasn’t too worried about him getting bit or hurt—he wrestled that badger like he wrestles a match. He’s catty, was sparing and bouncing back, and he knows how to finesse. It was like he was wrestling a competitor out there.”
Ty was light on his feet. Hopping around and never standing still, like a boxer. The badger was holding its ground against the foreign invader. After about a five-minute human-versus-beast sparring session, the badger decided enough was enough and started to dig into the snow. At that point, a cell phone was whipped out to record the battle from the pickup.
“He tried to dig down in that snow, and Ty reached down and pulled him out,” Monte said with a laugh. “My buddy was like, ‘This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.’ I told him, ‘I guess he’s gonna try another one and get hurt on the next one before he stops doing that.’ He’s caught two or three more since then.”
One thing about badgers—their skin is loose. That makes them easier to grab, but it also allows them to twist and turn further than you’d think. Watch your fingers.
“He was faced downwards, so I grabbed him behind the neck,” Ty said. “He was pretty close to biting me, but I just brought him over and showed them. I’ve always wanted to do it. I don’t know, it’s just kind of the adventure of the whole deal.”
Once Ty had control of the animal, he started walking to the pickup to show off his prize.
“I thought, ‘What’s he going to do with it?'” Monte said. “He carries it right up to the pickup, and that thing’s snarling and snotting and slobbering and growling.”
Satisfied with his catch, Ty safely let the badger go and quickly hopped back in the pickup before the animal decided to get some payback. The next morning, the three went to a cafe in a nearby town to get some breakfast. They found a table, sat down and a waitress took their orders, but not before making some small talk and asking where they’re from.
“We’re from Nebraska,” Monte remembered saying. “She got a funny look on her face, then she looked at Ty and said, ‘Are you the one that caught the badger?’ The very next morning that happened. Ty thought it was like catching a mouse, he didn’t think it was any big deal. That waitress was just going crazy, and there was a table with a couple older men having coffee, and they turned around, and almost in unison, ‘You’re the one that caught the badger?'”
Word of what had gone down had gotten around the small community. As it turned out, Jason had sent the video to his own buddies. And those buddies sent it to their buddies.
Quest for back-to-back state titles
Brady Thompson and Ty are lifelong friends. Together they make a strong, dependable foundation for the O’Neill wrestling team.
But while Ty is going for back-to-back state titles, he’s actually not the one who controls the room at practice. That would be Thompson, who’s headed to Omaha himself to compete in the 145-pound bracket.
“Brady’s kind of the top dog I’d say. He really puts the team on his back and I’d say he’s got a love for the sport more than anybody else on the team,” Ty said.
Ty and Brady have been playing sports together and been teammates for basically their entire lives. Brady has his eyes set on gold, too, but also revenge. Last year he was close to winning it all, but placed runner-up at 145 pounds with a 4-3 loss in the finals. Now he’s leading a group of seven boys and two girls looking to make noise in the Class C races at state.
“A lot of my leadership comes comes from my wanting to succeed not only individually, but as a team,” Brady said.
So, what’s it like being friends with Ty Rainforth? Brady said Ty basically lives outside. A true outdoorsman.
“He’s hardly ever inside. Never on his phone really. No video games, nothing,” Brady said.
And what about the part where Ty grabs live badgers and muskrats with his hands? That’s not an adventure Brady will ever tag along on any time soon.
“I just sit there and kind of laugh, but at the same time I’m like, ‘You’re an idiot, dude,'” Brady joked.
O’Neill placed fourth in last year’s Class C tournament at state, but the Eagles are thinking bigger this weekend.
“We have some big goals, and we’re looking at the top of the podium this year. I think we have the people to do it, and I think it’s going to be super fun,” Ty said. “We’re going to go down there with a lot of fire.”
Corkle said Ty is the type of competitor who comes to work every day, is quiet and simply goes about his business. There aren’t any days off with him.
“You don’t hear any complaining coming from there, he just takes care of what he needs to do and leads by example, which is the best kind of leader,” Corkle said. “He’s not the rah-rah kind of guy, but very humble. That’s probably one of his most endearing qualities.”
Ty has shown this season that he can come out on top in tight matches. That includes a 3-2 win over David City Aquinas’ Hunter Vandenberg at the Dale Bonge Invitational at Boone Central. Vandenberg scored first with a two-point takedown in the first period, giving Ty a 2-0 deficit heading into the second.
“In a match like that where you know it’s probably going to be fairly low scoring, that’s a pretty deep hole,” Corkle said.
But Ty wasn’t rattled. Just like he wasn’t rattled when he pulled that live badger out of a hole in Montana. In the second period, Ty scored an escape and takedown to take a 3-2 lead. Vanderberg couldn’t find a way to score in the third to seal the win for the O’Neill wrestler.
“I think he walked out of that match with some confidence,” Corkle said.
Not getting too high or too low is one of the traits Monte likes most about his son on the mat.
“I’m most proud of him for the way he handles himself and the way he treats other people. He just has a big heart, he cares about other people, he goes out of his way to help people,” Monte said. “That’s the most prideful thing for me as a father. I think about his wrestling, and he’s good at it and he enjoys it, but I really am proud of the way he handles himself.”
Ty tries to follow the advice of his dad when he’s wrestling. After matches, Monte wants his son to be even keel and not to make a show of it, win or lose. Respect the sport and your opponent.
“He’s lost some matches and he’s lost some tough ones,” Monte said. “But I’m really proud of him that I as a father, and hopefully the public, can not tell by looking at his reaction whether he wins or loses. Now, at the state tournament he really got excited when he won his first state title—I’ll give him that.”
Ty said he’s not quite sure what his future in wrestling holds. Right now, the plan is to attend UNL and major in agribusiness. So while his wrestling career will likely see its end this weekend in Omaha, there’s still one more challenge he wants to complete: being a back-to-back state champ.
“It would be proving to my younger self that I could do it. That’s been my goal, is to be a state champion,” Ty said. “And to do it not once, but twice—that would be incredible. It would be something that I’d remember for the rest of my life and be thankful for.”
So when Ty Rainforth steps onto the mat in Omaha this Thursday, there won’t be music in his ears or any pre-match rituals while he waits his turn. He’ll get into the zone himself. So far it’s been a recipe for success in his life, whether he’s wresting another 138-pounder or pulling a live badger out of a hole in Montana.