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Cottonwood Heights Journal

The 55th Battle of the Axe wrestling match is back at Brighton Jan. 24

Jan 04, 2024 01:15PM ● By Jerry S. Christensen

Junior Ben Tillman ready to win back the axe for Brighton. (Jerry Christensen/City Journals)

It was back in the Nixon Administration when Brighton High School was a newly built school.  Woodstock had just changed the music scene and man had just made it to the moon. Don Neff and Tex Casto, respectively from Brighton and Hillcrest, came up with a plan to promote the sport of wrestling. Thus began the longest running high school sport rivalry in the state—the Battle of the Axe. 

Much has changed in the 55 years since the first match. Both Brighton and Hillcrest schools have been torn down and rebuilt with state-of-the-art facilities—complete with indoor fieldhouses. Each school not only has a boys wrestling team, but also bring a girls wrestling team to the Battle of the Axe. But the sport of wrestling remains the same—two points for a take down, one point for an escape.

“I’m looking forward to carry on the tradition of the Battle of the Axe,” said Fernando Cortez, a sophomore at Brighton High who is battling a knee injury so that he can be back on the mats when Hillcrest visits Brighton on Jan. 24. “It’s really important for us as a team. It brings us closer together and unites us with teams in the past. It’s just something I always look forward to. It’s the most intense dual match because of the energy.”

When Cortez takes the mat against a wrestler from Hillcrest, he will be representing a lot of men in the stands like Chris Raleigh, who wrestled for the Bengals from 1976 to 1978.

“Aside from region and state, it was the highlight of the year,” Raleigh said of his time representing the Bengals. “There was always quite a high level of competition and expectation. And the stands were standing room only!”

Judd Mackintosh, a 1974 state champion at 167 who will be honored at this year’s Battle of the Axe along with his teammates from 50 years ago, said, "The beginning of the Battle of the Axe in the early 70s was a rite of passage proving that we could excel as a new school."

Ben Tillman knows Mackintosh from his continued work with the young wrestlers. He agrees that the axe represents team pride and program excellence.

“We all come into the match against Hillcrest with extra preparation,” said Tillman, a Brighton captain who will wrestle at 150 pounds in the match. “We want to leave our mark on the tradition with an orange stripe on the axe handle rather than a green stripe.”

Brighton’s principal Marielle Rawle was a senior at Brighton in the mid 1980s when Hillcrest earned its first green stripe on the axe handle. “We were stunned. This was at times the biggest sporting event of the year for both schools and the winning tradition was broken,” Rawle said.

While Brighton has dominated the Battle of the Axe over those 55 years, Hillcrest currently owns the axe and has it proudly displayed in their trophy cases. No current Brighton wrestler has successfully brought the axe back home to Brighton. That could change on Jan. 24 in “the Jungle” at Brighton High School.   

JV wrestling (the Battle of the Hatchet) begins at 5 p.m., girls wrestling is at 6 p.m. and boys wrestling begins at 6:30 p.m. The event is live streamed at λ