Swiss Schwingfest Celebrates 90th Anniversary

By Luke Phillips
One of the oldest traditions in the Imperial Valley returned over the weekend for it’s 90th Anniversary celebration.
People of Swiss heritage from all over the Imperial Valley and the entire state of California gathered at the Holtville Swiss Club Saturday for the 90th Annual Swiss Schwingfest.
David Ritter hosted the event and remarked on what an accomplishment it was to reach the 90 year mark.
“I think that’s just incredible,” Ritter said. “It’s one of the longest standing traditions of the Imperial Valley. And from the look of the turnout today, I think we’re going to see 100 years too. It’s great to keep this great tradition alive.
The Imperial Valley Swiss band opened the event with a performance of both the U.S. and Swiss national anthems.
The band then dedicated their next song ‘When the Music Comes’ to band members Carl Ruben and Mark Ponton who both passed away this year. Ruben and Ponton had played with the band for most of their existence with Ruben joining in 1936 and Ponton in 1946.
The main event at the Schwingfest is the wrestling tournament where boys and men of all ages face off in a 30-foot diameter ring full of sawdust. Opponents wear small canvas shorts called schwinghosen with two straps, front and back, which they use to toss and flip one another.
Rounds last five minutes unless a fall is achieved and wrestlers are scored on aggressiveness, sportsmanship and other criteria.
The Swiss style of wrestling is a time-honored tradition that dates back at least 700 years.
In the boys wrestling tournament Bryce Buscaglia took first place in the 3-5 year old age group with Dion Johnston, Brian Strahm and Seth Iten sharing second place and Braden Botello and Colt Britschgi in third.
In the 7-9 year old age group Derek Johnston won first place, Ethan Strahm took second and Richie Garcia finished third.
In the 10-13 age group Jacob Merton and Ted Vogel shared first place, Ian Schmidig took second and Nic Arnold finished third.
Paul Leimgruber took the top spot in the 14-16 year old age group with Lucas Widmen in second and Nathen Albright and Benji Suamataia sharing third.
In the men’s tournament out-of-towners dominated with Andrew Betschart, of Modesto, coming out the big winner. Ray Widmer, of Lathrop, took second place and Mike Berchtold, of Ripon, finished third.
Winners took home a trophy, a cash prize and bragging rights.
Judges for the wrestling tournament were Mark Allegranza, Butch Vogel, Mike Johston and Tom Muller.
Winners of the traditional ‘Rock Toss’ competition were Stacy Britschgi of Holtville in the women’s division, Jude Acosta, of Lathrop, in the men’s division and Ian Schmidig of Truckee in the kid’s division.
The event also featured traditional swiss sausages for lunch and a deep pit barbeque for dinner. Schwingfest attendees also got the chance to learn about Swiss culture at the club’s Swiss Museum and shop for Swiss merchandise.
“Anybody who’s ever come to a Schwingfest or put one on or participated in one should be very proud,” Ritter said.