The Butte sports community took a major hit Tuesday with the passing of Butte Sports Hall of Fame president Pat Kearney.
Kearney was found dead of a blockage in his coronary artery at his home Tuesday, Butte-Silver Bow coroner Lee LaBreche said. He was 59.
Kearney, a 1973 Butte Central graduate, is a well-known media figure in the Mining City. He was the president and co-founder of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame. He was also a former news director at KXLF-TV in Butte and the long-time radio voice of the Butte Central Maroons.
“He put his heart and soul into everything,” said long-time friend and former Butte-Silver Bow chief executive Don Peoples Sr. “How do you replace Pat Kearney? It left a big hole in our heart and in our community. We’ll never fill that hole.”
An avid runner, Kearney was also the author of several books, including “The Divide War” about the Montana-Montana State football rivalry and “Butte’s Big Game” about the Butte-High Butte Central football game.
“What a wonderful guy, one of my favorite Montanans,” said Bill Lamberty, the assistant athletic director of media relations at Montana State. “We have lost a great one.”
Whether he was reading the news, calling local sporting events or leading the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Kearney was known for his love of the Mining City.
“You’re not going to find many people who wore their love of Butte on their sleeve like Pat Kearney,” said Butte-Silver Bow chief executive Matt Vincent. “Butte lost a good one.”
Apart from a couple of years after BC sports switched from KXTL to KOPR, Kearney called Butte Central games from the late 1980s until his death.
On Friday, Kearney was behind the microphone at Alumni Coliseum for Butte Central’s 48-6 win over Anaconda. He was planning on broadcasting this week’s BC game at Stevensville.
“It’s going to be weird not having him there,” Butte Central head football coach Don Peoples Jr. said. “He was such a big part of everything.”
Peoples Jr. remembered his call of Ryan Murphy’s buzzer-beating shot against Colstrip in the semifinals of the 1990 Class A State tournament in Bozeman. Kearney went wild with excitement while broadcasting the call.
“You couldn’t understand what he said,” Peoples said. “But you knew it was good.”
Over the past few years, Kearney worked tirelessly to compile stats from Butte High and Butte Central’s football and basketball teams.
“He lived for that stuff,” said former Butte Central principal Tim Norbeck.
“The work that he did was priceless,” Peoples Jr. said. “Nobody else would have researched that”
Peoples Jr. said Kearney was currently working on Butte Central’s “Championship Lane” at the Maroon Activities Center.
“He had a big project to get a plaque of all of our All-State athletes,” Peoples Jr. said. “He already had two plaques up.”
Kearney was instrumental in putting on the 100-year anniversary celebration for Butte Central athletics over the summer. He also helped orchestrate BC’s 100 anniversary a couple of years back.
During Butte Central football games, Kearney kept the stats the coaches relied on, particularly during road games.
“We’re really going to realize what he did now that he’s not here to do them,” Peoples Jr. said.
Kearney was instrumental in bringing the Bob Cleverley 8-Man All-Star Football Game to Butte a quarter century ago. The game has been played in the Mining City every year since.
“He was a great 8-man football supporter and treated us all with the greatest respect at the all star games in Butte,” said Butte native and long-time Centerville football coach Ted Richards, who coached the game multiple times. “He was a great friend and will be missed.”
Peoples Sr. came up with the idea of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame during a conversation at a Christmas party. The hall came into fruition in 1987 thanks to the hard work of Kearney.
“It’s got to be the best Hall of Fame in the country,” Peoples Sr. said.
In 2009, Kearney was voted into the Hall of Fame in the contributor category. It was an honor he accepted reluctantly because Kearney was a man known for making things about others and not himself.
“I didn’t know in 1987 where we were going with this,” Kearney said in his induction speech. “Five minutes into our first banquet I knew we’d hit a home run. I never thought, though, that I’d be one running around the bases.”
Peoples Sr. said Kearney will forever be remembered for what he meant to the Mining City.
“You talk about the Copper Kings and all the great people who made Butte great, and he’s right there,” Peoples Sr. said. “Pat Kearney is on the top of the list of people who made Butte what it is.”