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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Food for thought on the travel issue with Anaconda moving to Class B

There’s been plenty of data kicked around about the financial burden moving to Class B may put on Anaconda in terms of travel expenses. But in my findings, that’s just not the case.

I did a mock up schedule for football, volleyball, boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ tennis and boys’ and girls’ golf, and it shows we can be lower in terms of mileage – in some cases significantly – and at no worse equal across the board when it comes down to it.

Regional scheduling is the key. If were to be put in the same conference as Missoula Loyola, Florence, Ronan, St. Ignatius and Deer Lodge, we have same level competition in non conference games available with short distance trips to Whitehall, Boulder, Townsend, Three Forks and even Manhattan.

Football, volleyball and boys’ and girls’ basketball and tennis travel becomes significantly less while boys’ and girls’ golf and softball would increase in the hypothetical scheduling. Wrestling, track and field and cross country won’t be much different due to the mixer style of events they already participate in.

One concern may be divisional and state tournaments, but I don’t think that’s fair to consider because success should be judged on a season-by-season basis. Girls’ basketball made the state tournament for the first time in three years this season, boys’ basketball hasn’t reached state since 2005, the Copperhead volleyball team hasn’t advanced to state since 2009 and the football team has made the state playoffs twice since 1995.

What I hate most about these numbers is seeing golf, one of the most successful programs over the years, having to move seasons. Head coach Mark Torney has worked his ass off with offseason practice schedules, even giving free lessons, and will now have to restructure his program if the change is made. But being the standup individual he is, he agreed he wants to do what’s in the best interest of all the kids of Anaconda. Although his program may see a decline with the spring scheduling, he’s still looking out for the best for AHS. Now that’s the sign of a great mentor and coach.

I love the competition in Class A. But I think it’s best we look at moving down to our rightful place in Class B. The numbers in terms of enrollment just aren’t up to par with schools in our division or conference.

Here’s a mock schedule which features regional scheduling.

mock schedule workup

Don’t label me as THAT Seahawks fan

Let’s get something straight, I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan.

But I’m not THAT guy.

We all know THAT guy, the tool dressing up in garb pulled out of a 70s hookers closet, spouting off their knowledge of the team and professing THEY actually have some sort of divine connection with it.

I’m not THAT guy.

I know the game and I root for the same team I watched beat the Pittsburg Steelers 30-0 in 1986 in the Kingdome as a 9-year-old. It was my first NFL game and I was hooked. And even back then, there’s no way I would act like some of the poser fans who call themselves WE and US.

I’m not THAT guy.

I remember the 2-14 year of ’92. It signaled the end of one of my favorite Seahawks, Dave Kreig, and the search for his predecessor. Anyone remember Stan Gelbaugh? How about Rick Mirer? John Friesz? Or remember Gelbaugh actually beat out ’91 No. 1 pick Dan McGwire, brother of juicing slugger Mark? Think the majority of posers wearing neon green could even pick any one of these guys out of a lineup?

I’m definitely not THAT guy.

Who remembers the true reason instant replay was actually reinstated in the NFL? It’s because Dennis Erickson’s 1998 Seahawks got hosed in Jew Jersey when Vinny Testaverde scored a phantom touchdown that the NFL decided to install it into regular season games. Seattle finished with their second-straight 8-8 season and missed the playoffs by losing that game.

Honestly, I didn’t mind the call afterwards because it led to the front office hiring Mike Holmgren away from Green Bay and turning the team into an instant contender.

Tell me how many clowns running around Century Link actually remember Erickson as an NFL coach? They still think of him as the guy at Oregon State and Arizona State.

I’m not even close to being THAT guy.

Now everyone wearing Seattle colors remembers the debacle of the 2005 Super Bowl. The ‘Hawks got jobbed and everyone knows it. Even Bill Leavey, head referee in that game, came clean years later admitting he and his crew screwed the Seahawks. (Check it out here)

But Seattle faded away into obscurity and the land of punch lines following some 4- and 5-win seasons leading to the departure of Holmgren, and into the hands of the biggest pile of coaching feces, in my humble opinion, Jim Mora. Mora lasted one excruciating, mind-numbing year in Seattle in 2009 before being fired, with his most recognizable moment being calling out Olindo Mare – who just so happened to be his best offensive threat that year – for missing a kick vs. the Bears. And the kick didn’t even matter. They lost like 25-19 and Mare had already hit four field goals earlier in the game.

All poser fans can tell you about Mora is he’s the guy at UCLA who graduated from UDub and beat the Huskies this year.

Don’t even start calling me THAT guy.

Sure, I talk smack about the Seahawks. But I do it with friends. It adds some fun to the game. But there I was, watching the NFC Championship game all by myself in a quiet setting, enjoying some time away from my busy-as-hell life. And man were things good for those poser 49ers fans in the first half. Winning in Seattle, where they’ve been dominated for the better part of three years? All was good in Ninerland. Kaepernick was exorcising his prior failures in Seattle and they looked pretty tough.

But with halftime adjustments came a changing of the guard. Seattle turned it around and was the better team when it mattered most. Then I had to dodge haymakers from crazy fans who couldn’t take the shit they were shoveling.

You see, I’m just not THAT guy. I laughed when Richard Sherman’s true colors came out in the post game interview. Not because I’m a Seattle fan, but because I know how intense professional athletes can get. Forget Sherman was a Stanford educated Communications major, his sole purpose on this earth is to earn a living. Now how does he do that? By playing football. When his legacy can be defined and earning power maximized, Sherman’s intensity was displayed for everyone.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to walk near a football locker room or on the sideline during a big rivalry, you’d see this behavior is not out of the ordinary. Why didn’t you see any other NFL players criticizing Sherman other than Michael Crabtree? Because they know football is a game of emotion, and one that could be ended with one play in every game they step on the field. It’s brutality for our entertainment, plain and simple. AND EVERY SINGLE NFL PLAYER TALKS SHIT AT ONE LEVEL OR ANOTHER ON EVERY PLAY. It’s just part of the game.

Should Sherman have acted in more of a civilized manner? Maybe. But he just secured reaching the caveat of his dreams by beating down a man who called him out at a charity event prior to the season, and he did it on the biggest stage. And moments later a microphone is shoved in his face to get his thoughts on what happened and he painted his picture of the events maybe a little too colorfully.

We joke about all the coach speak from players like Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, always spewing out the compliments as to not cross the line leading to bulletin board material. But when an athlete says exactly what’s on his mind we act like we’re in pure horror.

I like Sherman because he was real. He was put into a no-win situation, but he didn’t act as a poser. He owned up to his persona and said it exactly like it was. Now you can dislike him for being an ass, but don’t hate on him for being real.

Seattle is back in the Super Bowl, and now I get to enjoy a few weeks of buildup to seeing another football game I can root for. That’s all I really care about. And am I going to flick some stuff to my Denver Broncos friends, you’d better damn-well believe it. It will be all in good humor and fun, and in the end I know no matter how much I drink, cheer or hope Seattle will pull it off, it won’t affect the outcome of the game whatsoever.

Now THAT’s the type of fan I am.

Mitchell Stadium project back on track

With the news today of Montana Department of Revenue officials conceding it’s BS claims of “double taxation” by School District 10, it looks like we can finally put to rest an issue which stunted the growth of several district-building projects meant to enhance our schools.

For me, this specifically means that the Mitchell Stadium project is back in the works.

It’s no secret politicians with influence over the DOR and INTERCAP Loans programs threw our school under the bus for no good reason. They didn’t think renovating a “football stadium” with tax increment monies generated by the Mill Creek TIFID was in the spirit of why the fund was created.

But this is where I stand. Mitchell Stadium is a cathedral to me. When it was constructed, it was build by using Works Progress Administration dollars created by FDR’s New Deal. In other words, it put people in dire need of work in the Anaconda area to work during the Depression. In fact, it kept families together and alive.

The building of Mitchell Stadium, along with roads, sidewalks and other structures throughout Anaconda, kept laborers afloat, alive and well in our city. In fact, some of those families still remain today because of the WPA. Many went to work on the Anaconda Smelter or in the mines of Butte after WPA projects were retired.

So when Dr. Tom Darnell saw the need of reviving what has become a death trap of unstable footing, unsuitable restroom facilities and eroding buildings, the news swept through Anaconda like a brush fire.

Finally, because of Darnell and our Board of Trustees, Anaconda was going to have a brand new school facility we could be proud of free and clear of ugly band-aids and cost-cutting patchwork. WE were going to have one of THE premiere facilities for football and track and field in Montana. Well, until the suits in Helena got involved that is.

Hopefully we still push this project through. What better way to honor those who stayed in the Smelter City to raise their families during the Depression and built the grand stadium? Reviving the memory of those responsible for putting the original Mitchell Stadium in play while giving the future of Anaconda a grand place full of history to practice and play with pride while wearing “Copperheads” across their chests is exactly the way we should choose to honor that hallowed ground.

Now I know Anaconda is in need of several projects, namely a multi-use facility in order to serve all the student-athletes and citizens alike or even a new school, but first thing’s first. Rebuild Mitchell Stadium. Use local laborers once again to do so. Rebuild a sense of pride in our school and community by constructing something we can all rally around.

It’s again a good day to be a Copperhead!

Wagner wins SWMJGT final stop, earns season medalist honors

 

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Jackson Wagner hits his third shot on the Par 4 10th over Warm Springs Creek just close enough to drain a 60-foot par putt during the SWMJGT Tour Championship at Old Works G.C. Monday afternoon. © CS PHOTO,LLC

Jackson Wagner’s good play met some even better fortune Monday, carding a 3-over 39 on the back 9 on the way to a division-best 80 to run away with tournament honors at the Old Works Tour Championship Monday afternoon. 

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Wagner showing off the hardware he won at the SWMJGT today. © CS PHOTO, LLC

The win also secured his overall points championship as well, making him the medalist of the Tiger Woods Division (boys’ 16-17).

Wagner, the soon-to-be senior for the Copperhead boys’ golf team, has worked tirelessly on his game over the summer with sophomore friend and teammate Caleb Stetzner. Driven since finishing one spot out of All-State honors a year ago, Wagner has steadily lowered his handicap (now playing to a 7.1 hdcp) to become a viable contender with Stetzner — who won it as a freshman last season — for the Southwestern A golf title.

The Copperhead high school season begins play next Monday again at Old Works. Both boys’ and girls’ teams begin practice on Thursday at 2 p.m. at Anaconda Country Club.

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Alexandra Huber tees off on the Par 4 14th Monday at Old Works. ©CS PHOTO,LLC

Two other Anaconda golfer competed in the final tour stop today. Soon-to-be senior Alexandra Huber and Fred Moodry Middle School student Carter Morley both made the required stops to compete in the tour championship.

For more information on all SWMJGT events, go to www.swmjgt.com

TOURNAMENT RESULTS – Old Works Championship

FINAL TOUR STANDINGS

 

 

 

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Hardly a bad way to spend a Monday: Soon to be senior Alexandra Huber used Monday’s SWMJGT round to gear up for her senior season for the Copperheads. Here she tees off on No. 14 with the “A” Hill and Deer Lodge County Courthouse in the background. ©CS PHOTO, LLC