Here we are in the year 2018, and yet apparently our athletes still have to live with the perception that they are nothing but dumb jocks.
It probably isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, but that stigma clearly still exists with some, even though nothing could be further from the truth.
This issue became apparent again last week after Butte Central star athlete — and student — Kloie Thatcher signed an NAIA Letter of Intent to play basketball at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
I posted the story about the signing from ButteSports.com on Facebook. The story drew lots of encouraging comments for the young Thatcher.
One comment, though, wasn’t quite so encouraging.
“I wish they did this kind of announcement for kids who excel at academics choosing a college,” someone posted below the story.
Now, between the Green Bay Packers, New York Yankees and Donald Trump, I have plenty of ongoing arguments on Facebook. I don’t need to add any more. So, I counted to 2 million before I responded to the comment.
The person making the comment probably never meant it the way I took it. I’m sure this was a person who honestly would just like to celebrate the accomplishments of all of our successful youth.
Still, the sentiment of that comment is not alone.
It’s similar to the mom who wanted me to focus more on the athletes who are seniors in high school instead of the sophomore who is competing at a near world-class level.
As crazy as it might seem to some parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents out there, I didn’t go to journalism school to provide material for your scrapbook. The stories we write are not for the benefit of the athlete who is the subject of the story. They are for the readers.
Yes, it would be nice to recognize every excellent student in Butte, but that isn’t going to bring us any readers to the sports page. Or any page, for that matter.
When I got accepted to Journalism School at the University of Montana, nobody, other than immediate family members, would have read a story about it. Josh Paffhausen signing to play for the football team around the same time, however, is another story.
The students who excel academically are more and more the same students we write about on the sports page, too.
Seriously, save your rosters from the Butte High-Butte Central basketball games this week. Then, when the high school honor rolls are published later this year, cross check the names and see what I mean.
More than half of the eight Butte High Class of 2017 valedictorians were stand-out athletes, proving that we are no longer living in the era of the dumb jocks.
Sure, we’ve had a few athletes who had the physical ability but not the mental capacity to go onto strong college careers over the years.
I knew a high school football player who definitely could have been an NFL prospect if he would have opened his books once in a while, and I know a track athlete who could have gone to any South Eastern Conference school if he could only spell South Eastern Conference.
They are, however, very few and far between.
In the days when each high school sport is a 365-day job, only the highly-dedicated players rise to the top. More and more, the athletes who simply rely on their athletic ability get passed up by dedicated athletes by their sophomore year.
Athletes who are that devoted to their craft typically share that same dedication to their studies, and dummies aren’t going to be able to run the complex schemes we see in high school and college sports.
Take Butte High running back/linebacker Bo Mortensen, who recently signed to play football for Montana Tech, for example. He was so dedicated that he didn’t realize until after the final game that he played every game of the 2017 season — without missing a practice — with a torn ACL in his knee.
It’s no coincidence that a player so dedicated will also most likely be a valedictorian of the Butte High Class of 2018.
Greyson Mandic, who joined Mortensen as a four-year letter winner for the Bulldog football team and as a future Oredigger, also carries a GPA just under 4.0.
Ryan Moodry, who earned postseason honors at three positions for the Butte Central football team, is a 4.0 student, too, and he’s not alone on that squad.
Catherine Russo, the Butte High swimmer we might watch in the Olympics one day, spends more time on her books than she does in the pool, and that is saying a lot. She, too, has a 4.0 GPA.
Former Butte High star football player and track athlete Dalton Daum could have went to Harvard with his grades.
While she was becoming the all-time scoring leader — boy or girl — in the history of Butte High basketball, Lexie Nelson was earning straight A’s on her report card.
Before he went to the University of Montana and the NFL, Colt Anderson was a member of the National Honor Society.
Believe me, I could go on and on and on about the many Butte athletes who were also standing at the podium delivering valedictorian speeches and racking up major academic scholarship money, but I digress.
It is bigoted to think that our athletes are not good students. It is also 180 degrees wrong.
Student-athletes, who are also some of the best people you will ever meet, and also have a lot more pressure to deal with. They are held to a much higher standard than students who don’t play sports.
If they make a mistake, you read about it in the paper.
It’s not an easy life. They have demanding coaches, demanding teachers and demanding parents. Generally, the athletes you read about are the ones who can deal with all three and somehow find a way to be the best in the classroom and in the athletic arena.
If listing the names of the graduates, valedictorians and scholarship winners in the paper each May and June isn’t enough for you, though, maybe we should do stories announcing the college decisions for those who excel academically.
One name we could certainly start with is Butte Central’s Kloie Thatcher.
Aside from being a great basketball and softball player, Ms. Thatcher is also a 4.0 student. You can’t excel any more than that, and Rocky is getting a steal on multiple levels.
That is how I answered the comment on Facebook.
After I counted to 2 million, of course.
— Bill Foley, who counted by twos, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74