A time to visit the house of legends

The plaques at the Butte Civic Center looked to have some extra shine to them the other day. Mare Bartholomew and Ron Ygnatowicz must have spent some recent time.

Bartholomew and Ygnatowicz have been part of the hard-working group associated with the Butte Sports Hall of Fame trying to put together a nice time, if not a spectacular, for welcoming the 2015 members of the shirine.

These will be the first Hall of Fame ceremonies without Pat Kearney and nobody working the gig want to feel his wrath should plans go awry. Kearney, the man who must have had a 27- or 28-hour day each dawn of his short life in which to accomplish all he did, passed away last October. He was so much to the Hall of Fame that even those left closest to the project were not so confident in how to carry it forward. So, the group convened, and simply charged ahead, thanks much to the volunteer direction of Jim Michelotti and Jim McCarthy.

Among the many other duties Bartholomew and Ygnatowicz have donated so much of their time helping to do for the Hall of Fame, was going to the Civic Center lobby and straightening and cleaning the display cases and commemorative plaques.

They have to look good for this weekend, when the 2015 class enters.

That the displays need attention says much for the Hall of Fame, anyway. Fingerprints cloud the glass because somebody has been looking and reading, probably those who have attended the tournaments, games, rodeos, MMA fights, home shows, etc,, that the Civic Center continues to house through the diligence of director Bill Melvin. The jostling for position to see the displays likely led to some being knocked akilter and the need for straightening.

Even our visitors from out of town want to be acquainted with Butte’s sports greats. Many have likely been related. Some more have probably played against individuals in the collection of champions and all-staters touted on the lobby walls.

They are points of interest, indeed. More are on the way.

The Green Jacket day will be Friday with the no-host cocktails starting at 6 p.m. No admission will be charged, but expect storytelling to be of Olympic caliber. After all, current members of the Hall of Fame will be mingling and old friendships will be renewed.

It is expected to be so good, that the social hour will go two hours before the Green Jackets are presented, beginning at 8 p.m.

Emotions tend to flow more than the drink at this celebration and the presentations of the jackets usually elicit plenty.

Of course, for the golfers, the Green Jacket agenda will be preceded by a golf tournament at Highland View Golf Course. Longtime Butte coach and Hall of Fame supporter Ron Kautzman is running the tourney and can be contacted at 490-8704 for details.

Saturday, breakfasts will be held for the incoming members before the afternoon is set aside for the inductees to enjoy with their families. The events become more formal in the evening. A social hour at 6 p.m. will precede the banquet, which is to start at 7. Tickets for the Saturday ceremonies and dinner cost $40 and are available 8 a.m to 4 p.m. daily at the Civic Center box office.

The sit-down dinner will be catered and will include introduction and acceptance speeches, introductions of teams and a Butte sports history talk by Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent.

The emcees for the weekend events will be noted broadcast personalities Ron Davis for Friday’s activities and Pat Schulte for the Saturday banquet.Kearney will be properly memorialized through the weekend.

Of course, the headliners are the Hall of Famers themselves. This year’s class of individuals consists of Bert Markovich, Deann Johnson, Jack O’Billovich, Joe Simonich, John Metz, Kellie Johnson, Mick Delaney, Monte Sever and Bernie Boyle. The teams going in are 1986, 1987 and 1988 Butte High wrestling, 1986 and 1987 Butte High girls’ track, 1989 Butte Central boys’ golf and 1996 and 1997 Butte Central girls’ softball.

Appreciations were made known by some of the inductees last February at the press conference after the selections.

“I live in Seattle, but I’m proud to call myself a Butte guy,” said Markovich, a former Butte Central and Montana State football great. “My story couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t grown up in Butte. My coaches taught me the meaning of Butte tough.”

He recognized those coaches publicly, too, mentioning Bob Petrino, Otto Simon, Swede Kenison, Sonny Lubick and Sonny Holland.

“Butte guys turned that organization around at MSU,” Markovich said, referring to a 1970s football rejuvenation for the Bobcats.

Deeann Johnson was almost overcome with being endorsed Butte Hall of Fame material. She, too, credited coaches — Jo Buysse at Montana Tech and Ted Ackerman at Butte High for bringing out her basketball prowess. Just plain Butte had a lot to do with it, too, she said.

“Everybody kicked my butt,” she said with glee. “It came from playing basketball on the pavement on Second Street.”

The influence of Butte was as important as the coaching John Metz said he received as a champion wrestler at Butte Central and Montana State-Northern. Earning his place as a coach for six state championships, Metz’s influences included Rick Sparks in high school and Jason Liles in college.

“You don’t realize until you’ve grown up how much they’ve influenced you,” Metz said. “I never stepped on the mat not thinking I would win. That’s from growing up in Butte.”

Boyle, the do-everything guy at the Knights of Columbus so that Butte’s youth could, well, do everything remains surprised people noticed, or that there is even a reason they would. Rightfully, Boyle is going in as a contributor to the local sports community.

“I joined the Knights of Columbus and never left it,” he said, humbly. “I played basketball there in 1965 and 1966 and, to me, it was like Madison Square Garden.”

He has spent a lot of days since making sure ensuing generations have experienced the same feeling.

Sever, a crashing, intimidating and talented running back for Butte High football in the later 1960s, was thankful.

“The birth of my first great grandchild and then being elected to the Butte Sports Hall of Fame,” Sever mused, “the year can’t start any better than that.
“But I have to share the Hall of Fame honor with my teammates. If not for their efforts, I wouldn’t be here.”

Delaney was golfing in California at the time of the announcements but the successful football coach, recently retired from UM, promises to have his say on Saturday night. A remembrance or two from him might be worth the ticket.

Bob Johnson spoke on behalf of his daughter, Kellie, who was a three-sport great at Butte Central.

“Kellie is very proud of being from Butte and we would like to thank all of Butte for the backing she has had.”

Kellie Johnson missed the February press conference while coaching her Air Force Academy Prep School women’s basketball team, but will address the crowd gathered at Saturday’s banquet.

Tony Simonich spoke at the press conference on behalf of his great grandfather, a world-renowned boxer from the 1920s.

“It’s nice that I still run into people who’ve heard of him,” he said.

The late O’Billovich will also have representatives at the festivities to talk about the “Mad Dog” who terrorized Oregon State football opponents after a great career at Butte High.

The Civic Center will be house of legends this weekend and affords a chance to meet up with some old friends and younger crowd’s sports idols. The evenings should be memorable.

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