Mick Holien accepts invite to return to the air, makes me a very happy man

Holien

Mick Holien, the iconic Voice of the Griz for 31 years, will return to the air Thursday, Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. as a special color commentator for Anaconda vs. Libby in the Western B Divisional tournament being played in Ronan. COURTESY PHOTO

Can you pinpoint the moment in life where you’ve crossed paths with your idol?

As a life-long sports fan, a few big sporting events stand out for me. Billy Packer calling, “Back screen to George Lynch!” as the North Carolina star powered home an allyoop dunk from Derrick Phelps in the 1993 National Championship game against Michigan always brings back good memories. But getting a chance to rub elbows with Ken Griffey Jr. while local star Rob Johnson was playing with the Mariners – eventually learning Junior was just a down-to-earth dad beaming at the chance to mention his kids and their athletic achievements in conversation with complete strangers – and interviewing the iconic Jack Nicklaus during his appearance for the 20-year anniversary at Old Works Golf Course this fall are tough moments to beat. Locally, calling back-to-back championship games for the Anaconda High girls’ basketball team in 2008-09, Ali Hurley breaking the All-Time scoring record at Anaconda High or the remarkable 28-27 comeback against Polson in the 2006 Class A football playoffs are times I’ll never forget.

Those moments always get me rolling down memory lane. But hearing that raspy, enthusiastic, energetic, emotional voice of Mick Holien was deeply embedded in my mind. “Touchdown Montana!” crackling over the huge crowds at Washington Grizzly was even more impressive than going to the games live for me. It was radio bliss.

Holien is and was Montana Grizzly royalty, there’s no other way to put it. His coverage of football and men’s basketball games were bigger than the games themselves. Griz fans were just along for the ride.

Except for meeting Griffey, I knew I was never going to call a National Championship game on CBS, play a round of competitive golf with Nicklaus or work with Holien. Those events were above my pay grade, especially when I had no idea my path in life would be in radio after chasing a print journalism career.

In the beginning, I dabbled in radio. Dabbled meaning I hosted a radio show onboard the USS Nimitz with a man named Charles Yablonski, hosted a morning show at KMSM on the campus of Montana Tech and I filled in as a color commentator for KANA covering Copperhead football games after being discharged from the Navy in 1997. Early on I didn’t take the gig seriously, unless you consider my KMSM on-air joke, “Why is there a fence around the Lady Of The Rockies? To protect the last known virgin in Butte” acceptable radio. Happily, those days are behind me.

But in my hometown, I was one of an utterly replaceable cast of characters behind play-by-play rebel Bill “Wheezy” Shegina. Bob Mehrens, Steven “Beak” Blodnick, Bill Sather, Dennis McKenna and I did our best to not let Wheezy derail a broadcast into banter not associated with the game. Looking back, I realize what Wheezy was doing was entertainment. He piqued the interest of the listener. People tuned in to hear what outlandish things our leader would discuss, how a team from Anaconda, the ‘Heads, would be penetrating into Dillon territory (make your own assumptions referring to Dillon’s mascot), or when “Beak” proclaimed how he really felt about Belgrade folks – who just so happened to be receiving a feed for a football game at Mitchell Stadium. And in true Beak fashion, he held nothing back.

We had Wheezy, Holien had Scott Gurnsey, the abrasive color commentator who never had a problem relaying his disdain for officials or for opposing fan bases – an opinion earned while recording a historically-great career as a Griz receiver. Looking back, both booths were a struck match away from a dumpster fire.

I was always in awe what Holien brought to a broadcast. He wasn’t just the “Voice of the Griz” – he WAS the Griz. Being a poor student at Montana, working on Saturday’s was par for the course. Listening to the game was always much better anyway. His exuberance as the football team raced through the Big Sky season and into the playoffs was unmatched by any I’ve heard – then and now, and his proclamation to those not at the game to turn down the television and turn up his call to get a better feel of the game wasn’t a request, it was a demand. He commanded the attention of the listener whether you were a Griz fan or not.

After moving into a vacated role at KANA in 2002 to call more and more color games, the gig opened up full time in 2004. I remember the first games I did were horrible at best. I didn’t realize the work that went into preparing for a broadcast. It gave me a new understanding of what the likes of Holien went through to produce excellence every time he was on the air.

Now, I feel my work is solid, but far from perfect. Taking photos, doing live stats and calling the game with no color help can become a little cumbersome, but from what I’ve found as long as I keep the emphasis on the players it all seems to come together. I have to thank guys like the late Tony Laslovich and former boss Ron Davis for teaching me what it takes to not only be dedicated to a craft but to also adhere to the mantra of always keeping the emphasis of the call on the players and not on questionable officiating. In prep athletics, especially in Montana, that’s a must – a lesson I had to be taught the hard way.

Last week in Hamilton, I had a great color man in Craig Hurlbert – a Billings West native famous for having guarded (or as he puts it, tried to) Anaconda’s Rob Hurley the night he set the Anaconda High scoring record at 44 points against the Bears in The Golden Dome.  I enlisted his help because the flu has wreaked havoc on my voice and I wasn’t 100 percent sure I’d be able to call that many games back-to-back. I trusted him after hearing some of his work, albeit a small sample, at KLYQ in Hamilton calling Broncs action.

Immediately I realized having a solid color man is such a nice change of pace. Back in the day, Mike Miller and Bryan Lorengo were my guys in basketball while Cory Orrino and Kyle Moore all did that for me in football, but over time nobody has wanted to fill that bill. And with zero radio experience, all were excellent in those roles even if Lorengo baited me into toeing the line of acceptable content – however entertaining nonetheless.

I brought Hurlbert in for another reason, too. I wanted to brush up on my game working with another announcer for what was becoming a possibility for the following weekend in Ronan.

In October, I crossed paths with Holien while he was doing a guest public address gig for Florence High School. I did what I refused to do with Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon outside Safeco Field in 2004 and Griffey in 2010 along with every other semi-celebrity I’ve been in the presence of – I asked for a selfie. I’ve always had a certain amount of respect for those people in public settings, especially when they are  carrying on with a normal day. However, I really wanted a photo with Holien, and he was more than happy with the request. Afterwards, I was glowing the entire broadcast hearing his voice in the background from the PA speakers. It brought back such great memories.

During our brief conversation before the game, we spoke about his dismissal from Learfield Sports – the sports broadcast partner of the University of Montana – and knowing that ending hurt him deeply I said if he ever wanted another opportunity to broadcast a game I would love to be the one to give that to him. At the time I knew Anaconda had a good chance at playing in his neck of the woods for the Western B Divisional Basketball tournament in February, and getting the chance to work with him would be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Even as a resident in Polson, the prospect of getting it all to work out would take some work. Holien isn’t in the greatest of health battling the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis, and working in high school gymnasiums that aren’t normally equipped with handicapped facilities for broadcasters was an issue.

But, just last week, Holien responded to my previous request after declining in January sighting the previous issues. He made a concession, he would reconsider if he could do color instead of play-by-play. SCORE!

Because of the late games associated with a 16-team tournament at one facility, Holien’s availability is still in question. However, as of right now he is on board and looking forward to returning to the airwaves with yours truly to bring you Copperhead basketball on The Mighty 580.

It’s definitely not the caliber of athletics Holien is accustomed to calling, but for our fans and those around Montana who grew up listening to the only Voice of the Griz I will ever refer to, it will be treat.

So chalk up this event on the professional bucket list for me, and please feel free to log in and listen to Anaconda vs. Libby boys basketball action at 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23 on KANA 580 AM in Southwest Montana, kana580.com or via the KANA live streaming app available in your Apple or Google Play app stores.

So where were you when you crossed paths with your idol? Find me Friday and I’ll tell you all about it.

Blake is the general manager and play-by-play announcer for KANA 580 AM in Anaconda – a part of the AWARE Inc. Business Network in Montana.

Anaconda head coach suspended from team activities

Anaconda will be on the road for two powerful nonconference games against Whitehall and Butte Central this week, but will compete without their head coach.

Confirmed by Anaconda High athletic director Allen Green on Wednesday, boys basketball head coach Bill Hill has been suspended.

The fifth-year head coach was suspended for one week from all team activities. The details of the suspension was not disclosed.

“I cannot discuss the nature of the suspension because it’s a personnel issue,” Green said. “All I can confirm is that he has been suspended.”

Hill will be unavailable to coach for one calendar week starting Monday, Jan. 14. He is expected to return to the sidelines in time for Anaconda’s nonconference home game against Class A Corvallis Friday and on the road at 6B archrival Deer Lodge next Saturday.

‘Whitey’ was The Man for Anaconda High sports history

As a newspaper reporter, I depended on Tom White for a variety of things. As someone who learned from him both as a student and an adult, I developed a deep respect for him.

Today, I opened my email to find the local obituaries — it’s become a morbid obsession of mine. And more and more, the people who have shaped me as a man keep popping up in the feed. I guess that’s how life goes, but it doesn’t get any easier. When I saw Tom’s picture, guilt washed over me. about two and a half years ago, I saw him for the last time. And the guilt was because I never sucked it up to visit him in the nursing home.

It was the middle of July, 2013, and I was helping Slim Kimmell, then a photojournalist for the Billings Gazette, with a project ranking the best gymnasiums in Montana. Slim had never been to Memorial Gym, and he wanted a tour in order to see what all the fuss was about. I wanted Tom to be interviewed — to have the foremost authority of the history of basketball in Anaconda speak on behalf of our monumental Snake Pit. But when I made the call, something wasn’t right.

Let me backtrack a bit. When I was beginning a writing career for the Montana Standard and Anaconda Leader, Tom was my go to source for any and all things Anaconda High School. He knew everything, usually off the top of his head. He would always retire to his dungeon of information and return my call, but it always turned out he was spot-on with his recollection of data.

Tom compiled every season of Anaconda High School basketball from the 1900s until the early 2000s. And he didn’t just compile records and totals, he compiled everything. Full rosters of coaches and players, the amount of games they played, the points they scored — home and away — along with win/loss records against common opponents. Want to know how many games John Cheek or Bill Sullivan won or lost against Billings West or Dillon? I can give you that information in seconds.

And what’s more was Tom could regurgitate all of this and more in intimate detail. He was a living and breathing encyclopedia.

So back to the interview. While waiting for Tom, who only lived a block away, the exact date of the opening of Memorial Gymnasium wasn’t quite clear to me. I didn’t even dare to guess because the man who knew everything was on his way. Once he arrived, something  wasn’t right. His thoughts were cloudy and he brought a yearbook from 1950 to help refresh his memory. And even that didn’t help.

We discovered it did open in 1949, which was my original guess, but seeing Tom so scattered had me puzzled. He never went on camera because I think even he knew something wasn’t right. Days later, he was admitted into the nursing home two blocks from his house suffering from dementia and signs of Alzheimers.

At first, I was crushed. All that information, knowledge, history and passion was being stolen from him. And from me.

Once I was discharged from the Navy in 1997, I knew I wanted to be a writer. And the only place I wanted to do it was in Anaconda. Bruce Sayler gave me my first, second, third, and twentieth shot at the Standard before I just started showing up so often he knew he couldn’t get rid of me. Of all the feature stories I wrote, any that provided statistical data comparing one individual to another, those numbers came directly from Tom White.

“I needed somebody to talk to for the story when the legendary John Cheek passed away a few years ago,” Sayler posted on a Facebook feed tonight. “Tom White was so much help. I remember him playing on the Estes teams, too. He is a big loss to the Anaconda community in general, the sports community in particular.”

One of my favorite things to do is look through the trophy case at Memorial Gym. I’ve looked at the Wayne Estes memorial thousands of times, and every time I remember the stories Tom would tell me about him. He knew intimate details about those days, because as an undersized athlete, he played alongside the biggest legend in Montana basketball history.

“Quick with great defense! Couldn’t shoot a slingshot!” joked Tom Greenough, a former teammate and friend of Tom’s at Anaconda High. “A six-foot high jumper too! In the days when 6-foot-10 was the world record.”

Below are two screenshots from one of his history books. It’s the season recaps from his junior and senior seasons. Check out the rosters and the reference to the Butte Salute. I cherish this book, and it’s only one of many.

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I used Tom more than baby powder during Sunday softball tournaments in July.

When Don Hatcher passed away in 2015, Greenough and I had a conversation. I asked him what year Don graduated to get a baseline on his time at AHS. Class of 1960 it was. By looking over Tom’s black history book, I relayed that Mr. Hatcher was “one of 24 players to score four TDs in a game-did so against Bozeman in 1959. Scored 224 points in hoops in 26 games for an 8.8 ppg average in 1959-60.”

“Yep, that’s Hatch,” Greenough replied. “He was a defensive wizard also.”

Because of Tom’s research, I was able to put a smile on the face of a man who had just lost a friend. That Friday night, Anaconda played in Whitehall during the Trojans Homecoming. I gave a shout out to Don during the radio broadcast after his passing and reiterated those facts.

Because of Tom, players can look back on their time at AHS and relive a little of their former glory. To me, that’s remarkable.

Since he stepped away from recording all of the statical data, I picked up the slack. I also began categorizing girls’ basketball from their start in the 70s. I’m nowhere near as detailed as Tom was, but I can say that the information is up to date and accessible. And I’m extremely proud of being able to piggyback on his data.

In one of our many conversations, I told Tom I wanted his collection of material once he decided it was time to give it up. Shortly after he was admitted into the hospital, his youngest son, Shawn, who is a year older than me, called and told me about what happened to his father. He also offered three file cabinets and several boxes full of old yearbooks, scorebooks, spreadsheets of information, game programs and a book he wrote.

Knowing that Tom trusted me with this was truly humbling. Knowing he had the conversations with his family that he wanted me to have all of his research was touching. A lifetime of work landed in my lap, and I can tell you it was one of the most gratifying gifts I’ve ever received. That afternoon, I pledged to Shawn I would write a book (or numerous with all of this information) and a majority of the proceeds would go to whatever charity the family would like. It’s the least I can do for a man who gave so much to the school and community he loved.

I can say I haven’t had much time to write a book as of late. My children are young and I’m busy enough in my own life to take on such a huge task. But when the time is right, it will be done.

It’s not hard for me to admit my biggest passion is following and supporting Anaconda athletics. But before me, there was a man who did it bigger and better.

And I can’t thank him enough for paving the way. Rest in peace Whitey.

 

 

 

 

 

Anaconda takes on Deer Lodge, needs help to keep season alive

4N6A9803Although they don’t control their own destiny, they do have some say in who is or isn’t moving on into the Class B state playoffs.

Anaconda travels to Deer Lodge tonight to wrap up the regular season, and just like last year playoff implications are on the line.

The Copperheads beat Deer Lodge 38-14 last year at Mitchell Stadium, propelling them as the No. 2 seed out of the 6B.

Here’s where the story slightly changes this time around. Last season after losing to Anaconda, the No. 3-seeded Wardens earned the wildcard for the West and North divisions. This year, the wildcard is already secured by Shelby out of the 1B.

Anaconda can make the playoffs, but they need some help. Anaconda needs to beat Deer Lodge and have Ronan fall to Mission — the latter seems to be a tall order. If the Copperheads win and Ronan wins, both would have 3-2 district records and Ronan would advance due to their 43-7 win over Anaconda earlier this season.

4N6A9700Deer Lodge controls their own destiny. Beat Anaconda and they are in and Ronan is out. Any other scenario doesn’t matter. No three-team tiebreaker gives the 6B enough bonus points to eclipse Shelby even though they lost to Cut Bank 21-0 Thursday.

But now let’s revisit an earlier week in Class B. On Monday, Oct. 3, word spread quickly about a “mutually agreed upon” game cancellation between Manhattan and Huntley Project. It was later revealed officials from Huntley were upset about the cancellation while Manhattan admitted injuries would make this matchup too one-sided and wanted the forfeit.

Personally, I knew this wasn’t right. I knew this could affect possible playoff implications down the road. How? Try to keep up.

In Class B, a team gets 45 points for a win and 25 points for a loss. Then, at the end of the regular season, a team will receive three points for every opponents win (except if the team lost to that opponent). Add the number and divide by the number of games played on the teams schedule and you have your tiebreaking number.

To save the reader the time I spent working the numbers of wins/losses and their opponents’ wins/losses, Shelby was significantly in front of any possibly third-place team in the 6B or 7B.

Back to Manhattan. For arguments sake say Anaconda misses out by three opponents points. Manhattan forfeited and gave away their chance at three points against Huntley. Were they going to win? Possibly not. But hypothetically, they could have. And it could’ve affected the playoffs. That’s why, when Manhattan cancelled the game because they had too many varsity level players on the cusp of not playing after being banged up from a division win over Whitehall, their decision to forfeit was a cop out. And honestly, the decision was bigger than them.

Yes, safety of the kids comes first. But that’s why you have a JV squad. I can’t imagine having a coach look me in the eye and basically say, “You know what guys, we just don’t have what it takes to play against that team. Let’s take the week off, heal up and see how we look afterwards.”

In my opinion, the MHSA should’ve intervened and made the game happen. I can understand if you don’t have enough to field a team and be forced to forfeit, but this wasn’t the case. They were banged up on three or four skill positions and didn’t want another game against what seems to be a pretty solid squad to get in the way of winning a 7B district title. But Huntley suffered for it as well. They lost another game to improve and possibly play some younger kids to get them exposure to the varsity level. That raises morale around the whole program. Believe it or not, they were losers too.

In the end, it sets a bad precedence. Play the games that are on your schedule. Hell, Anaconda has had to deal with those circumstances for years against Dillon. And not once can I remember coaches Peterson or Orrino looking their players in the eyes and doing their very best to get the players to believe they could overcome adversity — it’s the essence of sports. Blockbuster Hollywood movies are based upon large odds being overcome.

Those large odds need to be in Mission’s favor tonight for Anaconda to go to the playoffs. That however is out of their control. What is in their control is ending the season of the same school that ended theirs in the Western B Divisional tournament in Kalispell last year.

If that’s not motivation enough, nothing will be.

 

 

Eric Hempstead boxing benefit Saturday, April 23 at Locker Room Bar

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On Saturday, friends of Eric Hempstead are holding a spaghetti feed fund raiser to help offset the costs of his impending trip to Las Vegas to begin chasing his dream of fighting professionally on the biggest of stages.

Hempstead was invited to be a sparring partner at a heavyweight boxing camp for Gunnar Kolbienn Kristinsson, an undefeated Icelandic champion, at world famous Johnny Toccos Gym in May. While there, Hempstead will train with Luis Monda and hope to get his foot in the door to some bigger events and hopefully get a shot on a headliner card in the future.

This is a huge opportunity for Eric. Kristinsson is coming to America with a lot of fanfare, many feel he’s a possible heavyweight contender. These invitations are not extended to just random boxers, especially those who walk in off the street as Eric did. Walking in to Johnny Toccos for an unscheduled workout, Eric raised enough eyes into earn this opportunity.

Moving to Vegas, Hempstead needs some help chasing his dream. Saturday will get him that much closer as his departure date grows closer every day.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. at Anaconda’s Locker Room Bar. The spaghetti feed is $8 per plate with every cent of the proceeds going directly to Eric. Spaghetti and trimmings were donated by Scott Hatcher at Locker Room, Jack “Gazooni” Moreni and yours truly.

During dinner, several auction items will be available for bidding including boxing memorabilia donated by Chris Eamon, metal sign artwork by Ryan Pesanti, several randomly donated items and one-of-a-kind signed items — gloves, trunks and shoes — from Hempstead himself.

If you can’t make the event, Hempstead has a gofundme page set up. Click here https://www.gofundme.com/ystmc7hk to donate.

Farewell to Gordon Voit; gone but never forgotten

First, I can’t believe I’m writing about a TV guy. Then again, Gordon isn’t just ANY television reporter.

Gordon Voit embodies all that is good and real in sports, journalism and life itself. It just so happens he has managed to wrap all of those qualities into one refreshing package.

A soft-spoken University of Illinois grad finds himself in Butte/Bozeman at KXLF, the local CBS affiliate in Southwestern Montana, within a few months of work earns the respect of the entire market. Yep, sounds about as believable as an old timer and his fishing story.

In a business that is definitely cutthroat, one that sometimes results in jabs and insults from other news entities, Gordo never lost who he was. Even the story of how he was hired for his first post-graduate job here is one of legend.

One would imagine a Big 10-level journalist shouldn’t have a problem landing a sports reporting job in any choice of markets, but as he told me that wasn’t the case. After a trip and interview in Binghamton, NY, he was left with an uneasy feeling. He had known about an opening at KXLF-KBZK but wasn’t granted an interview. Speaking with his father, he was unsure about the upstate New York gig and wondered about continuing his search.

“He told me to get on a plane and go to Montana,” Voit told me yesterday following his final game covered in Anaconda, a girls’ softball game played in what should be better described as ice fishing weather.  

“Wait, what? You didn’t have a job interview and you flew here without knowing anyone?” I asked. Unreal, right?

That’s all you need to know about the dedication and drive of Gordo. Once he landed in Bozeman he tracked down sports director Ted Dawson to discuss an impending position. He’d do anything to get his foot in the door.

“I didn’t have a flashy reel,” he said, basically describing his television resume.

But what Gordon does have is class. You put him in an interview, one-on-one, discussing his thoughts and what he could do to improve the stations coverage, and he’ll knock your socks off.

“I gave him 10 instances how I would improve the product,” he said.

And the rest is history.

Gordon is leaving Butte after a remarkable three years where he has bridged the gap between Big Sky Conference and small-town athletics. He’s earned the trust of every beat, shying away from the controversial topics and instead putting all his energy into highlighting the athletic achievements of those who normally don’t get noticed.

Being in the business of sports media, it’s a rarity to find a reporter that hasn’t had a negative opinion or take at one time or another — and the only reason I can say it never happens is because Gordon is the outlier. Always upbeat, never a frown to be found, you’d think Stuart Smalley got a haircut, went to a terrible sports university and decided “Yep, I’m going to be a television sports anchor.”

As a newspaper reporter in Butte and Anaconda, my job was to provide the top coverage I could on area athletics. But really that wasn’t as important at scooping those damn TV guys. And with some of them, it was easy. Most were lazy and vain, caring only about the hot-take and single cut highlight during a 3-minute segment aired after some lying ass weatherman misdiagnosed the upcoming week’s temperatures.

Looking back, KXLF has given the area gold. Aslan Hodges, Shane Ewing and Bobby Oler were all very accomplished in their coverage, doubling up as personable people away from the spotlight. But Gordon is different. He didn’t just learn the beats, he entrenched himself into the community.

Gordon brought the often forgotten athletes in towns like Anaconda, Whitehall and Deer Lodge into the same light as those in Butte and Bozeman. It was his passion finding about those with rare talents who were always overlooked, and with every passing interview and story, he earned more and more trust from those extended communities.

I can’t tell you how many times people have told me about having Gordon as a dinner guest at their homes. Before leaving he was considered a part of their extended family. A column from Bill Foley of buttesports.com http://buttesports.com/no-replacing-friend-gordon-voit/ gives you an idea of how another print journalist like myself found Gordon to be a one-of-a-kind human.

While rubbing elbows with Gordon, it renewed my faith in the business. I knew if there was a local athlete doing special things, I could drop him a text and within a few days there was Gordon, highlighting their talents in a broader and far more professional scope. That he trusted my judgment to follow up without hesitation was the icing on the cake of our relationship.

Many wouldn’t know of Gordon’s faith in God because he’s the last to push his beliefs on anyone. Somehow he understands even the mere mention of the subject could possibly make some uncomfortable. Maybe that’s why I like him so much.

I often joked with him, “Damn it man, swear or do something, will ya?” It was always met with a laugh and a changed subject about something positive or uplifting. One of my favorite movies is “Bad Words” – a story about a man seeking revenge on his father by making a farce of and entering a youth spelling bee by taking advantage of a loophole in the rules. In a conversation about the crass language and behavior of the character played by Jason Bateman and a clean-cut, seventh-grade spelling bee competitor, Guy Trilby (Bateman) discusses his cussing with the youngster, Chaitanya Chopra.

CC: Have you figured out your favorite word?

GT: No, I sure haven’t.

CC: Is it the “F” word?

GT: It’s up there.

CC: Because you say it a lot.

GT: Everyone should.

CC: I shouldn’t.

GT: Why not? You should just say what you feel, that’s what they are there for.

CC: I feel the opposite of bad-wordy right now.

GT: Will you just say something bad you f*@!ing Quaker?

CC: (pause), um… motherf*!@er?

GT: Great, perfect. That’s a good one. And did your soul burst into flames? No.

This is the perfect analogy of our personalities. I’m the outspoken former Navy man who has little to no filter and often speaks with questionable language in social settings and Gordon is the effin Quaker. But that’s what makes him so refreshing.

When I’m calling Copperhead football, basketball and softball games on the radio, my wife, Melissa, is usually on the field or court taking pictures to accompany game recaps I provide on kana580.com. And as every reporter who crosses our paths during games will tell you, she’s much nicer than I am. The two have met and talked a few times, nothing meaningful or in depth, just passing the time in friendly conversation. Yet Gordon made it a point to remember her name and refer to her as such when we spoke.

I can’t express how much these actions mean to people, especially when they aren’t forced interactions. Do you know how many media members have come and gone while Gordon has been with KXLF? Melissa has maybe spoken with Gordon two or three times and he still committed her to memory. He doesn’t just know the athletes in Southwest Montana, he knows their family story as well, and that is why Gordon is irreplaceable.

When he broke the news about his new adventure in his home state of Illinois covering his collegiate alma mater, he was admittedly in tears. He felt like he was letting people here down. For two years I would always tease him, “So when are you heading to Bristol?” – chiding him about moving on to ESPN headquaters in Connecticut (and yes, he is that talented. Don’t kid yourself). A shy, embarrassed smile would always be his expression followed by a statement saying how much he loved it here, calling Butte his home.

Even if he ever doubted his talents, we all knew he would one day hit the road. It’s what TV guys and gals do. Usually it’s to bigger markets with the hopes of one day landing their own makeup artist, but Gordon honestly was completely comfortable with the life he built here.

Who honestly knew this was Gordon’s first crack at being a sports reporter? Who thought he was a mere 20-something dude seeking his first industry job fresh out of college? Nobody, that’s who.

I guess the best compliment you can give him is the guy just gets it. He’s honest, caring and compassionate. He doesn’t just report the news, he does so by treating every subject as he would if they were his own children.

In his farewell tweet, he thanked everyone for their patience, grace and friendship. The final sentence in the note will always stay with me … “My goal is the same as it’s been since grad school: Glorify the God that has shown me an absurd amount of grace by celebrating those who are overlooked, undervalued and amazing creations of His.”

Not only did he take the time to reach out to everyone before he left just for greener pastures, he did so by letting them know they will not be forgotten.

TV talent comes and goes, it’s the nature of the business in a small market. But rarely do we get to see a sneak peak of who will one day be on the biggest of stages working for a national media market. Sure he’s not flashy and doesn’t say outlandish things in a business that almost requires such hot “takeitude,” but he makes up for it in spades. In a time when negative comments and shock-jocks are more rewarded than actual journalists (see asshats Steven A. Smith and Skip Bayless), it’s the Gordos of the media circus who keep the essence of insightful and thought-provoking stories alive and well.

Tonight, Gordon will be saying so long to what will most likely just be a blip on his career map in the business. He is holding a gathering at Muddy Creek Brewery in Butte from 5:30 to 8 p.m. with an after-party at The Post. If you can’t be there to wish him well, send him a note on Twitter or Facebook – the response he will give you is worth your time.

I will say it’s been a pleasure meeting his acquaintance and I look forward to sending him an invitation to my children’s graduation in 14 years.

And you know what, that sonofabitching, clean-cut, dry-humored Quaker will be there with a million dollar smile acting as if he never left.

That’s not weird at all. It’s just Gordo.

Anaconda’s Ed McCarthy was the coolest guy you knew

IMG_1989Word was spread today from his family that Anaconda’s own Ed McCarthy has passed.

In a different time when mailmen could actually come to your front door and hold a conversation or even sit down on the other side of the plank and have a few during their break,he was the guy who made your day better.

Even when he retired from the rigors of his job at the Anaconda Post Office, he regaled anyone who would listen with stories of his time on this earth.

And nobody turned a deaf ear.

He was the kindest human around, and probably the funniest as well. And he needed that humor to cope with the shenanigans associated with the political scenery his wife Bea endured as a democratic Montana State Legislator and Board of Regents member.

In 1965, they began a world-renown St. Patrick’s Day party at their home that grew larger by the year. it started in their living room then spilled out to the streets and alley on Anaconda’s west end. Their final party in 2005 brought tears but also allowed the family to enjoy some special time with one another–even if it was only so Ed wouldn’t have to save a year to replace the contents of his private stash.

The McCarthy’s made the ugliness of political races go away once their doors opened.  Every political party, incumbent or ones seeking office — they all made sure the McCarthy party was on the campaign trail. You see rubbing elbows with the enemy was far easier to do while looking at the history in pictures the couple had gathered in the basement and throughout the home. Plus, a negative review from those at the party may as well have been a death sentence to your chances for election.

I was too young to regularly partake until the 1998 party, when I began working for Roach and Smith Distributors (now Summit Beverage). The beer we would deliver leading up to the event was magical. Tapped kegs in the garage, back patio and basement and making sure Ed’s beer fridges in his sanctuary were full took hours. Even when the party stopped, if Ed’s garage door was open and you didn’t stop he considered it an insult.

When the days beer distributors had to stop direct delivery to non-businesses came, I remember meeting Ed at Town Pump to deliver the cases upon cases of on-sale Rainer to his garage that he purchased. One, because he was such a nice man and two, the payoff in suds and conversation was well worth the time.

Whenever you’d cross paths with Ed during his afternoon touch, he’d greet you like a long-lost family member – even when you had just talked his ear off the day before.

When I was covering Ed’s grandson Triston as a four-year starting quarterback for the Copperheads or a rocket-firing lefty for the A’s, the conversation always stayed on point and positive — even when some of those years produced anything but.

In fact during any one of our discussions, I don’t recall him ever saying a bad word about anyone or anything. How is that possible?

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His appearances in the St. Patrick’s Day parades here in Anaconda lit up the eyes of children throughout the route. He’d distribute bags and bags of assorted candies then put his younger Hibernians to bed at the AOH afterwards.

Simply put, I don’t know if there’s been another ambassador for Anaconda who has brought more kind words to the community. Everyone loved Ed.

His church, Hibernians and Anacondans will all be at a loss, but you can guarantee the sadness will be saturated in joy once the stories start flowing. He was a true gem of a man, and every day of his life was one to be cherished.

Slainte buddy. I’m going to tip some of that frosty Rainier goodness back tonight in memory of a guy who cannot and will not be replaced.

Trying to read about Goosetown last weekend? Don’t pick up you local newspaper

When some 140 softball teams come to Anaconda for one of the best slow pitch softball tournaments in the US, I’ve found you can do a multitude of things. Some complain because of the increased traffic and congested stores and restaurants, some plan vacations on the same weekend and leave, but most participate either by playing or watching some of the action.

Unless you’re the local sports reporter.

Instead of hanging out in Anaconda for the women’s home run derby Friday night, men’s derby Saturday night where there was a chance, albeit small, someone could’ve won $10,000 (gladly sponsored by Montana Orthopedics and KANA 580 AM) or Sunday night when local teams were still in the running for trophies, our paper’s sports editor was in Butte covering a bull riding contest.

That’s the equivalent of Missoulian sports reporters going to Drummond to cover a mixed masters croquet tournament the night of NDSU-Montana opens the college football season this August.

The Anaconda Leader is a local paper that currently has no sales outlets, to my knowledge, in Butte. And you’re covering Butte events when something of this equivalent is in your backyard? By the math, no less than 1,500 players were in Anaconda over the weekend. Now multiply that by at least three with families, friends and fans who come just to be a part of such a festival. Yearly, gas stations and C-stores, grocery stores and restaurants in Anaconda depend on the influx of money to support their businesses, and our newspaper doesn’t report on that impact?

And honestly, if we had that event say at the Saddle Club, knock yourself out. I’m not against rodeo at all, those guys and gals are badasses. But when the biggest gathering of people for a softball spectacle — a tournament that proves it can and literally is played by all ages — from Montana, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and even Arizona, James Wisniewski, Leader Sports Editor, made the administrative decision to travel 24 miles to report on an event that has little to no impact — economically or otherwise — to Butte.

I personally have nothing against Wisniewski although I disagree with most of his beat reporting. He refuses to cover local youth athletics unless it has to do with skiing or boxing, or if there is absolutely nothing to write about. He spurns local athletics for outdoors stories on Lewis and Clark Caverns, Garnett Ghost Town and Wraith Hill.

I took pride in covering all levels of athletics while at the Leader from 2007 to December of 2012. I made it my duty to make the back section of the paper as visually appealing as the front page because our community loves its sports. But when you open up the paper to see headlines such as Wednesday’s “Outlaws crush A’s” describing Gallatin Valley’s win over our American Legion baseball team, that’s the last impression you get.

Headline writing is the most important part of a newspaper. It either grabs the readers’ eye or turns them off in a snap. And nobody wants to read about a local baseball team getting it’s teeth kicked in, even if that’s the way it happened. “Outlaws rob A’s” would’ve been enough to engage the reader without punching the team in the gut before even reading about the game.

Even during down weeks, I made sure the adult recreation had their names dropped as well. Every week bowling scores of all ages were recapped along with special recognition in terms of feature stories for honor scores and special achievements. Golf leagues and major tournaments important to the economic health of our local clubhouses were always reported in depth.

Why? Well simply put, you report on an array of athletics because people pay to see their name in the paper. They clip the articles, they scrapbook the moments and they enjoy them for years to come. And if you’re not covering the most economically relevant event of the year in Anaconda, do you really expect those businesses to advertise in the future? It’s a horrible business model.

As for Goosetown, Wisniewski didn’t even have to attend. He could have written a pertinent story by using the press release sent out to every local media outlet by tournament director Bill Hill on Monday filled with the top four teams in each division plus MVP and all tournament team selections for almost all of the teams listed. Every year I always think it’s intriguing to see where all the tournament-winning teams travel from just to play.

Since I left three reporters have held my job title. And with every one I offered never-ending help and information. With Sean Eamon, who first replaced me, that wasn’t necessary because he already knew the coaches and players from his time at the Montana Standard. Eamon was replaced by Kyle Houghtaling, who used me at first but soon built his own beat — one that was full of solid reporting. Wisniewski never took my offer seriously.

I get it, I’m a former employee that may or may not have been held in the best of light after leaving for a similar position with another company. But my offer to help was genuine because all I care about is Anaconda youths getting recognition for their sporting accomplishments.

I try to do as much local sports reporting I can with kana580.com, but my job and family responsibilities only allow so much.  I know there are many things that fall through the cracks, but I do what I can.

And that’s why picking up the paper on Wednesdays and Fridays has become all the more frustrating. I used to put my heart and soul into those pages, and to see it now is disheartening.

It could still be great, but listening to what readers want is a must. I still believe an online presence is needed there, but that’s another story. But I’ll tell you what, printing stories about Butte bull riders isn’t doing right by our community or by the papers bottom line.

I’ve held my tongue for long enough, it had to be said. Covering a Butte Bull riding event and a rodeo in Drummond just doesn’t make sense, and I can’t believe our local businesses haven’t put a foot down. We live in Deer Lodge County — it has to be the main focus. Sadly, that no longer the case.

Standard stoops to an all new low, even by Lee Enterprises standards

Even the Montana Standard has stooped to an all new low this time.

The same news entity that had the gall to fire, or as they called it “eliminating the position” of sports editor Bruce Sayler, is now hard at work perfecting their new style of reporting: plagiarism.

Working off a tip from a reader of both the Standard and buttesports.com, editor Bill Foley saw some glaring similarities in the story he published on Butte High tabbing former Anaconda girls’ basketball coach Maury Cook on Monday night (April 27) and the one that showed up Tuesday morning at mtstandard.com.

For anyone living under a rock, the Web site buttesports.com is a local news outlet supplanting sports and community content via Butte Broadcasting (KOPR-KGLM-KBOW) published daily, if not hourly sometimes, by Foley. Seeing a need for the lack of sports coverage in the area and wanting to expand the brand of his radio stations, owner Ron Davis launched the site that has been a hit with locals since August 2012. News, columns by a bevy of qualified journalists and an array of fantastic photography (namely by Jason Silvernale and myself, Foley’s pictures suck) to put a stamp on solid reporting of Butte High, Butte Central, Southwestern A Conference schools and Frontier Conference news and tidbits including big contributions for Montana Tech and Montana Western has been the calling card of the site since its inception.

Confused, maybe even a touch hurt, Foley contacted me to take a look at both stories posted to get my thoughts. As it was attributed by Foley, I was the one who let him know Butte High had decided to offer the job to Cook Monday evening. I did so because I know the speed and diligence of Foles, and I know he would want to make that information known to the public as soon as possible and do good by our former head coach and educator.

Once I tweeted out the initial news, Foley began fact-checking Cook’s past history (with me via phone calls and text messages), even called the interim coach within 10 minutes of me telling him about the hire. Within 20 minutes from the moment I gave Foley the information, he conducted the interview and posted the following story on buttesports.com:

Maury Buttesports

Then, at approximately 6 a.m. the next morning, this story was posted on the Montana Standard website:

Maury StandardI don’t even have to allege plagiarism, it’s right there for everyone to see even if the definition of the word and the ramifications of which isn’t fully known.

In the aftermath, I even posted a comment to the Standard’s Facebook thread announcing the story. A snippet captured by Dave Dunmire shows a few of the comments, but unfortunately the threat was removed after the administrator found the facts a bit appalling.

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Ironically, if I was charged with a criminal offense and the Standard reported on that fact, calls to take down the post would have been met with the “public’s right to know” defense. However call out a newspaper for plagiarism and links and comments to such abuse seem to fade away in thin air.

Foley was once an award-winning journalist at the Montana Standard, and from my recollection the last sports columnist-journalist to earn such accolades from the Montana Newspaper Association while employed there.  He left the Standard without a job in hand following the firing of his boss and mentor as a big “eff you” to the Lee Enterprises-owned entity – one that has single-handedly ruined what used to be one of the best newspapers in Montana.

Foley fostered no ill-will to the workers of the Standard even though, like me and other former employees of Lee Enterprises, we all despised how they treated one of the true gems of our community in Sayler. But time and time again, these little jabs keep popping up over time.

Doing some more digging, Foley has found some other glaring instances where those working at the Standard have chosen to steal almost word-for-word other content on local news stories instead of actually doing any reporting of their own.

There’s a difference using someone like Foley for information and taking his work. Citing his information is a good practice because he’s knowledgeable about the history and cognizant of the direction of Butte-area athletics. But cutting and pasting his work without so much as changing the flow of the story is the very definition of plagiarism.

You see, when Lee Enterprises starting cutting their competent and loyal staff so their CEOs and CFOs could reign in huge bonuses restructuring the failing company for bankruptcy, they also starting replacing that staff with nothing more than cheap, unqualified employees. The reach of a small town newspaper contributor is beyond just seeing their name in print and recognizing them at a local watering hole. The really good ones stir the pot in order to give the news no matter their allegiance to those involved and put their name on every original submission, good or bad. Foley was exactly that.

Often times after my days at the Standard were over and I was writing for the Anaconda Leader, a biweekly newspaper in Anaconda, I would get into the conversation with locals about how ignorant Foley can be. “We will never buy that paper again,” or “I’m cancelling my subscription,” were the common phrases told to me. Yet, those people were the first to turn to the sports page on Tuesday morning to see what else that meatball would choose to print.

I always told Foley and the other good guys at the Standard, “The Standard gets it first, the Leader gets it right” when the common fight between daily and biweekly newsies would commence. But in all honesty, when Sayler, Foley and Pat Ryan were there, it was very rare that any information was incorrect or misunderstood.

Sadly, those days are now gone. I’d like to play this off as just a misunderstanding of the way content is gathered, but there’s just no way that could be the case in this business. Journalism 101 tells you to always cite sources and attribute content to its rightful owner even when they are better at their jobs than you.

And what’s even more comical, the Standard had the stones to print the following statement at the end of the submission.

“Copyright 2015 Montana Standard. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.”

Take your own lead on this one fellas: Stop publishing stuff that isn’t yours as a way to play off some sort of competence in your jobs.

Lastly, the best part of me giving Foley the statistical information for Cooks reign in Anaconda via text came in a huge win for me. As a sidebar, if I ever die I give nobody the right to publish the conversations had via text between Foley and I, it will set society back 50 years (and that’s coming off the heels of alleged murderer Ray Lewis publishing a two-minute call to end violence in Baltimore). But I digress.

The conversation went like this:

Foley: What is his (Maury’s) cell?

Me: 8675309

Foley: You are a (expletive). I wrote it down. (expletive).

Me: Tell me tell me, who do I turn to? (redacted phone number). Did you know Tommy Tutone is one of his assistants?

Yes, I got him on the Jenny, Jenny bit, which has become a lot easier to do now with the array of cell phone prefixes available. Still, it was classic. And he’s an idiot.

But he’s not a thief, and that should mean a whole lot to Butte people searching for truth in their news stories.

House Bill 114 will crush the dreams of Montana public schools

First, I hate politics. I’m a former sports reporter/editor turned radio play-by-play hack, thus I prefer the certainty of a contest played out mano-a-mano instead of having politicians only voting for ones party be the end result of a conflict.  House Bill 114, introduced by Mike Miller (R) of Helmville, is exactly what I despise about politics.

HB114 was drafted for one sole purpose: to stick it to Anaconda. In short, the Bullock administration and his Montana Department of Revenue feel School District 10 is spending TIFID money captured from the Dave Gates Generation Station (NorthWestern Energy) in Mill Creek illegally.

If it’s illegal, then by all means put a stop to it. However, it appears it may not be illegal after all – even when terms like “Double Taxation” get thrown around as a scare tactic to Deer Lodge County residents. If what SD10 was doing with their cut of TIFID funds was illegal, why is the DOR so adamant on changing the laws set forth in HB114? I’ll tell you why, because they hate the way Anaconda has planned to spend their money. Period.

The DOR vehemently disagrees with Anaconda using TIFID money to renovate Mitchell Stadium – the current home of the Copperheads’ football and track and field teams. So much so they took SD10 to court in October of 2012 only to have Judge Ed McLean rule the DOR “lacked legal standing” to bring the case forward as it had not been harmed by the alleged misuse of funds.

When then DOR deputy director Alan Puera said under oath in 2012 “The TIFID is intended to build infrastructure for an industrial district, not to build football stadiums for the school district off budget,” and when the now Montana Budget Director Dan Villa told me in July of 2012, “My tax money will never go to building a football stadium,” I had a feeling what was in store for Anaconda. Since they couldn’t legally prove impropriety, they would resort to the next best situation – change the law.

Now, SD10 must hurdle Montana giants NorthWestern Energy’s “double taxation” claims and the DOR with HB114 if they want to use money the Office of Public Instruction already deemed “legal and entitled use” of TIFID funds.

And according to an April 3, 2014 document published on the DOR Web site, 45 other TIFs – categorized by either Industrial or Urban Renewal – list some sort of revenue received by local schools within their respective districts. They aren’t just taking this fight to Anaconda, this bill will have significant repercussions to public schools statewide.

Mitchell Stadium, along with many other buildings in Anaconda, is in desperate need of repairs. And no matter what people think, it IS a school building. The proposed construction was to be about $5 million, a drop in the bucket in my opinion to return the grandeur and glory to a staple of our community that has deteriorated over time. However, some opinions state the lack of use of the facility doesn’t equate to that sum of money. Tell that to Butte High fans about Naranche Stadium.

Yes, Naranche was revitalized with TIFID funds just in time to play host to the Bulldogs – the 2012 Class AA State Championship football team. Being in that facility on Friday night, Nov. 16, for the state championship did it for me. What an atmosphere!

Tell Butte High or its fans a football stadium isn’t worth the money. Some places cannot be measured by solely using a price tag. (Here’s a story I did about Naranche Stadium in 2012)

When asking Rep. Miller why he was introducing HB114 via Twitter, his response was, “Follow the law!” and “My understanding is that there are a couple districts that do not do it the way the rest of the districts do.”

And what I found most alarming was Rep. Miller doesn’t even specifically know why he’s introducing HB114. I would think if you want change – a change that alters the way the law reads and is adhered to – you must feel pretty strongly against the way it’s been done in the past.

So why is Rep. Miller even introducing HB114? I’ll tell you why, someone told him to. This year he’s sponsoring Bills for two separate hunting measures, a revised tax law related to pollution control and a revision to the TIFID laws for Montana schools. Some wide range, I’d say.

If as a representative you want to remove the stigma of dirty politics, you may want to at least be schooled on the reasons you are asking for TIFID reform for Montana school districts.

HB114 would likely be a death sentence for Anaconda schools, and it looks as though a representative with an ulterior agenda with some friends in high, or low as it were, places may be playing the executioner.