Subscribe for 33¢ / day
John O'Dell photo

John O'Dell

Photo provided

TOWNSEND — Many a parent has used sports to help harness the boundless energy of an offspring.

When Larry O'Dell was raising his sons Mike and John, in Huntley Project during the 1970s, he enrolled the youngsters in youth wrestling in an effort to put their perpetual motion to good use.

And even though Mr. O'Dell never coached before, his mentoring helped propel the young matmen to eventual state and national championships, while establishing a blueprint for their future careers.

"I started wrestling in 1977 because my older brother Mike wrestled, and I haven't missed a season yet," said O'Dell, Townsend's longtime wrestling and tennis coach. "My Dad got into coaching freestyle when I was 5 years old, because I was a pain in the butt when I was young."

At Huntley from 1987-91, O'Dell achieved four top-three placings at the state tournaments. As a senior, he duplicated his brother's state title, winning the 119-pound Class B/C championship with a dazzling 39-1 record.

O'Dell amassed a lifetime record of 129-17 with 103 pins. His only losses to a Class B wrestler came at the hands of Cut Banks' three-time state champion Sam Volkman. 

When asked to name a highlight in USA wrestling, he noted his "1990 national championships in freestyle, Greco Roman and Sambo," in Indianapolis, Indiana.    

O'Dell received a wrestling scholarship to Western Montana College where he wrestled for four years, and majored in English and industrial technology.

He has now taught high school English, and coached wrestling and tennis, for 21 years; at Glendive (1997-99) and Broadwater Highs (2000-present).

On the mats, O'Dell's teams have captured five Southern Division crowns and garnered the 2010 state runner-up trophy. He has also guided seven individual B/C titlists.

His girls tennis players won their four Class B championship last season to go along with their three-peat from 2007-09. The Lady Bulldogs also own a state runner-up finish and two third-place trophies, and are working on current streak of 11 consecutive divisional championships.

Individually, coach O'Dell has directed two singles titlists and three doubles champions.

Needless to say, John O'Dell has come a long way since those days of being "a pain in the butt" to his dad. 

1. Who has had the most influence on your career, and how so?

O'Dell: My dad. He was an engineer and demanded perfection, but he was always kind. My father was not a high school coach, but he was my best coach. He shaped my coaching philosophy of treating kids with respect and kindness, and pushing them to be the best they can be.

2. What are your hobbies away from school and coaching, any summer activities?

Get the latest sports news and scores sent to your email inbox

O'Dell: Fishing, boating and camping on Canyon Ferry Lake. I also hunt in the fall, which is why I quit coaching football after four years.

3. What is your background in tennis?

O'Dell: Well, in high school my only sport was wrestling. I was too small for football, they wouldn't let me train with girls cross country, and we didn't have tennis as an option. I had never played tennis in my life before (coaching); I learned to play from reading a book and from trial and error on the court.

4. What is your wife's name, how long have you been married, and how many children do you have? 

O'Dell: I've been married to my wife, Alexa, for 22 years. We have two kids, my son Cael (named after Olympic champion Cael Sanderson) is a seventh grader and he wrestles, and my daughter Carsyn is in fifth grade and she plays tennis.

5. What kind of coaching adjustments do you have to make going from a physical, contact sport like wrestling, to girls tennis?

O'Dell: When I first started out, I coached them differently, and our tennis team was not very good. But I soon learned that the girls were just as tough as the boys, and I our productivity improved. The two sports are very similar; they're both one-on-one sports, they both require mental toughness, and it takes self-discipline and focus to succeed at both.

Curt Synness is on Twitter @curtsynness_IR and can be reached at or


Load comments