They can laugh about it now and we all did Saturday night during the 2015 Butte Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet at the Butte Civic Center. The moment of occurrence was you-better-believe-it intense, though.
Meg Murphy was in her first term as head coach of the Butte Central high school girls’ basketball team and her star player on the 1994 squad was a freshman Kellie Johnson, whose family had moved from Whitehall only the year previous.
Johnson was quite gifted in athletics and, as she showed Saturday night at the Civic Center, in poise and personality, too. This instance was about basketball, though.
Murphy recalled that the Maroons were locked in a heated game in Whitehall and the Whitehall fans were riding Johnson pretty heavily, given that they felt she had abandoned them in order to play for Butte Central. They had been counting on her to lead the Trojans to great accomplishments as she grew up in the little town just on the other side of Homestake Pass.
So, Johnson didn’t mind answering their jeers by blistering them for 14 points through the early stages of the contest.
“Then, we had a three-on-one fast break,” Murphy recalled during her speech presenting Johnson to the Hall of Fame. “Kellie had the ball and was in the middle with Jackie Cortese on one side and Marcie Mansanti on the other. As a coach, you had to be thrilled. It was just like it was supposed to be.”
Remember, Whitehall had been giving Johnson, only a freshman, mind you, a tough time.
“All of a sudden,” Murphy remembered. “Kellie whips this behind-the-back, no-look pass. Right on target.”
The only problem, however, was that none of the BC teammates had ever seen a perfect, behind-the-back, no-look pass before and so the ball sailed out of bounds with Butte Central clinging to a four-point lead.
So, Murphy lifted Johnson from the game and didn’t put her back in the rest of the night. The parents were dismayed, of course, but understood. They were kind of enjoying watching their daughter respond to the Whitehall catcalls with double-digit scoring and probably rebounds, too.
“Could you have to done that in another game?” Eileen Johnson asked, Murphy said.
“Could she (Kellie Johnson) have done that in another game?” Murphy replied.
Kellie Johnson sought an explanation, too, and, according to Murphy, argued that she’d seen Michael Jordan fling that very same pass several times.
“And when you have Scottie Pippen on the side catching it, you can, too,” Murphy reasoned.
The Maroons won the game and Johnson went on to set numerous basketball, volleyball and softball records before playing basketball at Illinois State. For the past 10 years she has guided the Air Force Academy Prep School women’s basketball program in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Even while growing up in Whitehall, Johnson attended many Butte Central games, she said, because her idol was former Maroon star Katie English, who now helps coach BC athletics. Johnson looked up to English and hoped, she, too, could play for the Maroons someday, she said. Wow, did she.
“I loved team sports because I always loved having teammates,” an emotional Johnson told the banquet crowd of about 500 persons seated in the arena. “And that’s why I’m standing here. You can never do it by yourself.”
Johnson was joined as an inductee by Bernie Boyle, Mick Delaney, Deeann Johnson, Bert Markovich, John Metz, Jack O’Billovich, Monte Sever and Joe Simonich. The 1986, 1987 and 1988 Butte High wrestling teams, 1986 and 1987 Butte High girls’ track teams, 1989 Butte Central boys’ golf team and the 1996 and 1997 Butte Central girls’ softball teams were also brought into the Hall of Fame.
Pat Schulte served as master of ceremonies and a touching tribute to longtime Butte Sports Hall of Fame president Pat Kearney was shown. Kearney died last October.
Markovich was presented by his brother, Kevin, and by his former football coach at Montana State, Butte Hall of Famer Sonny Holland.
Kevin Markovich thanked his older brother “for setting the pace and helping all of us (brothers) become who we are.”
“Bert came to us as a champion,” Holland said of the former Butte Central star. “That was evident by him being picked as an eighth-grader the captain of his CYO team. You just try not to screw them up when they get here when you get ones that good.”
Bert Markovich said Butte “is the city that shaped my life.”
“My grandparents worked underground here as miners as many of your grandparents did,” he said to the audience. “My dad told us we owed it to our grandparents to take advantage of the opportunities we were being given.”
Bert Markovich Sr., 95, was among those in the audience.
He added that playing for a 1969 Butte Central state champion football team as a sophomore for coach Bob Petrino (another local Hall of Famer) “was when I left my childhood behind.”
Former Butte High and Oregon State standout Jack O’Billovich died 20 years ago, but was represented by his son, Tony, who also starred at Oregon State.
“I’m humbled to accept this award in the town he grew up, in the town that made him who he was,” Tony O’Billovich, fighting tears, said. “By a landslide, of all the honors he received and halls of fame he’s been put in, the Butte Sports Hall of Fame would’ve meant the most.”
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Father’s Day than this tonight,” Rae Lynn Nielsen said as she presented her dad, Sever, for the Hall, and added with a laugh, “You’re right Dad. You really are a stud.”
Sever was a record-setting running back for Butte High football in 1967-68 and shared a couple of humorous anecdotes in his speech.
“During fifth period I could sit and look out the window on Fridays and see the tractor preparing the field,” he said. “I thought it was just beautiful. Then, we’d go dress out and get ready for warmups for the game that night.
“The best part, though, was seeing that yellow school bus carrying the night’s opponent pull into Naranche Stadium. Now, you know, some of those kids had never seen a field like Naranche before. You knew who they were. When they got off the bus, their eyes were as big as pizzas. Our 12th man was dirt.”
He talked about how the coaches insisted the players reach out to the community.
“One time, Glenn Welch and I had to go town to the Madison School and talk to some fifth-graders,” Sever said. “So we did, said a few words and then a couple of the kids asked us for autographs.
“We found out later those kids made copies of our signatures and were selling them for 10 cents apiece. I said to Glenn: ‘We’ve made it.’”
Dennis Simonich talked on behalf of his late grandfather, a pro boxer known as the “uncrowned welterweight champion” of the year 80-some years ago.
“There were four positive character traits insisted on and passed on to our fathers, who passed them on to us so we could to our children,” Dennis Simonich said. “No. 1 was to never give up, No. 2 was self-discipline, No. 3 was to show kindness and compassion and No. 4 was patience.”
Brothers Dan, Tom and Casey Boyle gave presentation speeches for their dad, picked in the contributor category for his work with Knights of Columbus and youth sports over the years in Butte.
“He was cut from the Butte Central basketball team as a freshman and sophomore and it crushed him,” Tom Boyle said in good humor. “But he made the wrestling so that Buddy Walsh had a ride.”
“He always stressed to us the importance of education,” Casey Boyle said. “He stressed that all the time we were swamping at the KC.”
He also touted his dad’s spearheading of the building of the Maroon Activities Center.
Dan Boyle talked about his dad’s overall generosity along with his penchant for helping organize trips to sporting events, including an invitation to Dan’s senior class, to attend the important Chicago Bulls-Utah Jazz NBA playoffs game in Salt Lake City.
Bernie Boyle, in his acceptance speech, joked that he was undefeated in his wrestling career, 1-0, thanked his wife, Peggy (Salazar) Boyle, for her patience with him and all his projects and trips. A priest was a big influence on Boyle’s life, he said.
“Brother McCormick (73 years in the priesthood) would open up the gyms for us to play basketball in, any time of the day or night,” Boyle said.
McCormick was also in attendance.
Mick Delaney was inducted for his highly successful high school and college football career, which seems to have ended with his December retirement from the head coaching position with the Montana Grizzlies. As was reminded through the presentation, though, this is Delaney’s third retirement from coaching.
His son, Mike, presented him and talked about the vagabond life a coach’s family leads as he performs his work, job to job.
“But we got to experience three Holiday Bowls, three Liberty Bowls, an Orange Bowl, Poinsettia Bowl and San Francisco Bowl,” the younger Delaney said. “Mick has also been on both sides of the Butte High-Butte Central rivalry, the Tech-Western rivalry and the Montana-Montana State rivalry.”
Delaney held head coaching stints at Great Falls High and Montana Western before heading the Grizzlies. He was an assistant at Montana, Butte Central, Great Falls High, Montana State, Colorado State and, again, at Montana. Delaney served as Montana Tech athletic director between his Montana State and Montana Western coaching stints. He nearly held the Bozeman high school head coaching spot, but mill levy failure prevented his hiring, Mike Delaney told the audience.
“I’ve been fortunate to be part of almost everything there is to win in athletics,” Delaney, a Butte Central grad, said. “But this, hands down, is the most humbling and prestigious honor I’ve ever received. This award is from Butte and given by Butte people. That’s why it is so special.
“As an educator, I probably shouldn’t say this, but athletics was the most important thing to offer in Butte other than copper, gold and silver when I was growing up here. If you could play in athletics in Butte, then you could go to college because you were a tough …”
Delaney noted that he worked with 25,000 to 30,000 kids and with more than 300 coaches during his career.
“I was able to bring from my roots in Butte whatever I needed to wherever I went to be successful,” he said. “It has always been easy to find people from Butte who can and will influence kids.”
Delaney said that when he dies, he wants his ashes divided into sprinkles at Naranche Stadium, Memorial Stadium in Great Falls, the grounds of Alumni Coliseum (where he coached Great Falls High to the 1974 state Class AA championship game win over Butte High) at Montana Tech, Sonny Lubick Field in Fort Collins, Colo., Washington-Grizzly Stadium at the University of Montana and “on the 18th hole at the Butte Country Club.”
Marian Paull was a Butte Central and Montana Tech basketball standout and she also coached at Montana Tech and headed the Butte High program. She presented Deann Johnson.
“At Montana Tech, D.J. was always asked to defend the opponent’s best player,” Paull said. “Sometimes she was giving up 4 to 7 inches (in height advantage) and it didn’t matter.”
Johnson said she felt her career and her life have “been guided by good luck and a higher power.” She told of having to recover from heart surgery when she was 14 to become a terrific athlete. Johnson, a local physical therapist, has been a basketball official for nine years.
Former Butte Central wrestling coach Rick Sparks introduced Metz and told the crowd that the two-time state champion “had to learn how to work hard,” before winning the second title and going on to become a college NAIA All-American at Montana State-Northern.
Metz also became a standout coach with five state Class B-C team championships at Conrad and then a Class AA one at Butte High. He is now the Butte High principal.
“Coaches don’t get enough accolades for the time and effort they put in with kids,” he said, recognizing Sparks’ work with him.
He also said Butte attitude and reputation helped him to his success.
“When I was going to school at Northern, another student was talking to me one day about how he was really tired because he hadn’t been getting any sleep,” Metz told the audience. “I asked him why he hadn’t been sleeping and he said it was because the guy living above him was really noisy and keeping him awake.
“I asked if he tried talking to the guy about it and he said he hadn’t because, No. 1, he heard the guy was from Butte, and, No. 2, he heard the guy was a wrestler.”
Hall of Fame coach Jim Street presented three wrestling teams for induction and noted that the 1988 Bulldogs were first Montana team to be ranked No. 1 in the country among high school wrestling teams. Pete Schonsberg presented his 1986 and 1987 state champion girls’ track teams from Butte High and Murphy talked about the 1996 and 1997 state Class A softball champions from Butte Central she coached. Schulte introduced the 1989 Butte Central boys’ golf team that won the State Class A title.
The next Butte Sports Hall of Fame inductions will take place in 2017.