"It's considerably long — wizardly maybe," says Ben Hamman about his prize-winning beard. "...There's a lot of it. I've been letting it go for the past 3 1/2 years or so, since I moved out to Montana. They let you do this in Montana."

Montana men put their long beards, bristly beards, white beards and even well-groomed beards to good use this year, helping to raise almost $10,000 for the Montana Make-A-Wish Foundation.

At last week’s Missoula Beardies competition at Highlander Taphouse, five men competed for the title. Patrons paid $5 for the chance to vote on the best beard, and a panel of judges included a “wish kid” named Henry Becker.

Montana Make-A-Wish Foundation is a nonprofit that grants wishes to children with critical illnesses. Montana’s independent chapter of the national Make-A-Wish Foundation raises money for Montana children only. It hopes to grant 40 wishes this year, with one wish costing on average about $10,000.

“Beardies is one of the ways we’ve raised some money this year,” said Douglas Koester, Montana Make-A-Wish CEO. “It came about through Make-A-Wish Vermont, who did it last year. I was, like, 'Well, we can do better than Vermont because we’re bearded here in Montana.' So we basically challenged them.”

About 20 teams were created on the online fundraising platform for Montana Beardies, with names like “The bearded bear,” “Whiskers to wishes,” and “Blood, sweat and beards.” The beard team that raised the most money, from Warm Springs Productions in Missoula, raised $3,093.

That’s more than any of the Vermont beardies raised, Koester added.

The rivalry with Vermont will culminate in a national competition with the top beardies from each state going head-to-head (chin-to-chin?). A judge will evaluate photos of the beards, and the winner will take home either a case of Montana bison steaks, or a case of Vermont maple syrup.

At the Highlander Taphouse last week, Missoula’s Ben Hamman was declared the winning beardy. Hamman, a graduate student at the University of Montana, credits his beard’s “sheer volume” for the win.

“It’s considerably long, wizardly maybe,” Hamman said. “I might be giving myself too much credit there, but there’s a lot of it. I’ve been letting it go for the past 3 1/2 years or so, since I moved out to Montana. They let you do this in Montana."

During the competition, Henry Becker, who was granted a treehouse by the Montana Make-A-Wish Foundation, raced to put as many hair clips in the competitors' beards as he could in 60 seconds. He managed to secure 13 hair clips to Hamman’s beard.

“Certainly for me, and I think it’s safe to say all of the competitors, I think that was the most fun part,” Hamman said. “He did a wonderful job. We wore the clips in our beards for the rest of the competition.” 

While each beardy raised money independently on their online crowdfunding sites, another $200 or so was raised at the Missoula competition. Montana Make-A-Wish plans to hold more competitions around the state, and to continue using the competition as a fundraiser next year, with the hope of funding two wishes by raising $20,000.

“This was the first time that I have done anything with or for Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the whole reason we did this is to raise money for a great cause that I think anyone and everyone should get behind and do what they can to help,” Hamman said.

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