Jake Herron was not crying, but you could get the sense that he could break down at any minute.
We were standing outside the 112-year old Missoula Hellgate Gym, just after Butte High’s girls’ basketball team’s season came to an end with a 57-52 loss to Kalispell Glacier.
The defeat came in a loser-out game in the Western AA Divisional tournament. A win would have sent the Bulldogs to the Class AA State tournament for the second straight year.
The Bulldogs fought like champions until the final buzzer. They trailed by 11 points going into the fourth quarter, but battled back to within one point before the comeback fell short.
After the game, the Bulldogs players and coaches were devastated by the loss. None took it harder than Haley Herron, a tough-as-nails senior who, like always, had just laid her heart out for her team.
Herron played like that every game. In four years in a Bulldog uniform, Herron played in 85 out of a possible 85 varsity games, and there was not one night in which she mailed it in.
Only Lexi Nelson (91 games), Joe O’Neill (90) and Kalli McCloskey (87) played in more games for the Butte High Bulldogs.
Herron ranks just ahead of Ali Cleverly (84), Hattie Thatcher (83) and Sammy McGree (83), Anna Fabatz (81), Brianne McClafferty (81), Natalee Faupel (80), Brittney Tierney (80), Karin Jolley (79) and Beth Ueland (79).
Herron was never a superstar for the Bulldogs. She was just a good, steady player from the get go. Terms like “blue collar” and “lunch pail” describe her perfectly.
As a senior, Herron averaged a career-high 9.9 point per game in the regular season. Her 7.3 rebounds per game as a junior was a career best.
Herron, who volunteered to referee the Special Olympics Montana State Basketball Tournament in November, also led the planet in floor burns. She was in the top one percent in all-out effort.
Like any basketball fan who appreciates a player who give her all, I really enjoyed watching Herron play the past four seasons. She is a fierce competitor who played every game like it was her last.
If she chose that route, she could easily play basketball in the Frontier Conference.
After all of the hugs and the tears following her last game, I told her dad, Jake, how much I enjoyed watching her play. I told him I was going to miss seeing her in a Bulldog uniform.
Not ready to let that go, and not wanting to choke up, Jake said, “There’s still track season.”
Then, he repeated himself.
“There’s still track season.”
Jake is one of the people I thought about first when news broke that high school sports in Montana have been suspended indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the shot put and discus are not the spectator sports that basketball is, it is still fun for a proud father to watch.
Now that the coronavirus has brought the world to a screeching halt, Jake might not get that chance. We are staring at the very real possibility that the entire spring high school sports season will get wiped out.
That would be an unspeakable shame for high school athletes. It is already a sad reality for the thousands of spring sports athletes in the NCAA and NAIA.
At least a lot of those college players will be given an extra year of eligibility to make up for this lost season.
You only get one senior year in high school.
Well, you only get one senior year in high school in which you are eligible to compete in sports, that is.
If the season is wiped out, Butte Central senior Cutter Thatcher will not get another crack at a senior campaign for the Maroons.
With all of his hard work in the offseason, Thatcher is primed to set the world on fire this spring.
At least he was.
Thatcher has a solid team behind him, and the Maroons were looking to add a state track championship to the state basketball title that they just took home from Billings.
You think it stings that the Maroons had to share the state basketball title? Think about not having a chance to compete at all.
Butte High’s boys also have a great shot at making a run at a team trophy at the state tournament.
Like with the Maroons, this is a senior season that we have been looking forward to since we saw these boys compete in the grade school track meet.
So many of us were looking for one more season following Tommy Mellott, Quinn Sullivan, Tucker Winston and the rest of the Bulldogs.
I was looking forward to hearing the Moreno brothers make their case as to why they should be the cover photo for every track meet for one more season.
Luckily, Thatcher has already signed to run track for the University of Montana. But what about those athletes who needed a big spring to get that same chance?
Three years ago, Butte High’s Ty Peterson busted onto the scene by placing third in the pole vault at the Class AA State meet. The next year, he got the attention of track coaches around the country when he became the Bulldogs’ first pole vault champion in 31 years.
Peterson chose to go to Montana Tech and focus on his education, but he had several opportunities to pole vault in college.
If he did not have a senior season in track, he would have been a guy we kind of remembered. Now, he is a Bulldog legend.
Remember how bad it stung the Butte High softball players last year when their season ended because the divisional tournament was rained out?
Multiply by that by about 10,000 if we will miss out on if the entire softball season.
Imagine missing your 12-year-old year of Little League. Or your last season of American Legion Baseball. Imagine a spring with out the Special Olympic track meet.
Sure, any kind of sports losses because of the coronavirus pandemic pale in comparison to the real problems.
Our schools are closed, and our economy is collapsing. People are dying. Our neighbors are losing their jobs.
As we go through these tough times, we need to look out for each other. We have to keep an eye on or neighbors. We have to support our local businesses, who are struggling to support us.
These are definitely worrisome time.
Sports, though, still matter. The dreams of our young student-athletes also matter.
There appears to be nothing we can do to save them, either.
We all feel for our friends and neighbors who are hurting. We worry about the elderly and vulnerable that we all know and love.
I, too, hurt for the young athletes who could forever be haunted by what might have been.
I feel for those fathers who would give everything to watch their daughters compete just one more time.
— Bill Foley, who is crying at the thought of missing his daughter put the shot put, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.