Four years ago tonight I took an evening run with a big smile on my face.
I grinned ear to ear for the entire 7-mile jog with my puppy because I had a very good reason to be happy. After a three-month hiatus, I got to be a sportswriter once again.
ButteSports.com went live, and I could not sit still. Like an over rambunctious puppy, I had to run off my excitement.
The site officially launched on Aug. 17 of 2012, but ButteSports.com, built by John English of NCAT, actually hit the internet early in the evening before.
Three months earlier we started working to build the website, a free sports page devoted to the athletes of the Mining City, when I was hired by Butte Broadcasting, which owns the radio stations KBOW, KOPR 94 and Magic.
Ron Davis, Paul Panisko and I started working on the idea just before I left The Montana Standard, after more than 14 years covering sports in Butte, in May of 2012. I left because the paper, owned by Lee Enterprises in Iowa, decided to eliminate the position of sports editor, not-so coincidentally as the sports editor was nearing his 60th birthday, in a cost-cutting move.
That cold-hearted decision left my friend, colleague and mentor Bruce Sayler without a job. It also robbed sports fans of Butte and Montana of one of the greatest writers this state has ever seen.
The unconscionable move was one that I just could not stand for, so I tendered my resignation from a job that I felt I was born to do.
Three long months later, we were back. We started Butte Sports, and we took Bruce and fellow former-Standard sportswriter Pat Ryan with us.
We got the band back together, and we unveiled ButteSports.com with a feature story on Butte High senior Zach Bunney, an amazing athlete who was trying to play two seasons in one as he made up for a junior year that was lost because a battle of leukemia.
Bunney more than made up for the break as he and the Bulldogs captured the hearts of Butte Rats past and present by delivering the school’s first state championship in 21 years.
Butte Sports was there as Jake Dennehy kicked the 46 ¾-yard field goal as time expired to win that title game. Butte Sports was there as the Bulldogs boarded the firetruck on a ghostly, foggy night in Uptown Butte.
The timing of the launch of our website was very fortunate since Aug. 17 was also the night of the 2012 Butte High Purple and White Game.
A week later, the Bulldogs beat Great Falls Russell in exciting fashion at Naranche Stadium, and a remarkably fun season never slowed down. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 2012 State Champions because they made our readership grow at least tenfold.
I personally owe the team a thank you for bailing me out with the come-from-behind win over CMR in the semifinals. That thrilling win came after I wrote a column making light of CMR’s controversial decision to wait until Saturday to make the drive on the snowy roads, delaying the game by 18 hours.
As the Bulldogs trailed by 16 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, I could hear the collective voice of thousands of Rustler fans getting ready to laugh at me. I was also bracing for the backlash of Bulldog fans for giving the Rustlers some dreaded bulletin board material.
I have written about 200 columns since that snow day. I’ve made some friends and lost some because of those columns.
I might have reworded a few lines — like in the column that made some teachers at my children’s school think I was being critical of them when I was actually poking fun at the administration in the school district — but I don’t regret any of them.
A little more than a year after we launched the site, my column began running in The Butte Weekly, allowing me to get reintroduced with some of the readers in town who are not logged onto the internet. Hopefully they are logged on by now.
One of my favorite things about the first four years of Butte Sports was its association with Pat Kearney, the legendary Butte broadcaster and historian. Pat wrote a history column for the website that helped give more meaning to the achievements of the athletes of today.
The website went dark on Oct. 14, 2014 when we learned the news of Kearney’s untimely and tragic death at the age of 59.
I’ll never forget the last time I talked to Pat. I was updating the website late on Friday night from an office in the back of the radio station. Earlier, Pat spent a good portion of his broadcast of the Butte Central football game railing on the newspaper for not sending a reporter to cover the Maroons for, possibly, the first time in its history.
Pat came through the back door to return the broadcasting equipment beaming.
“Did you hear me?” he asked.
His smile grew as I laughed and told him I did.
Before he walked away that night, Pat told me that the Maroons were going to play for the Class A State title. He did not say they were going to win it, which they did not. He simply said they would reach the title game, which they did at the end of that memorable season.
I only wish Pat could have been there to call that game and that he would have written a historical column to put the classic battle between BC and Dillon into its proper context.
More importantly though, I am just so very grateful for the two plus years we got to work with a true Montana sports legend.
At Butte Sports, we have now followed a full class through Butte High, Butte Central and Montana Tech.
This weekend when the Bulldogs and Maroons hold their scrimmages, we will start with another one.
We’ve covered a pair of Frontier Conference championships for the Montana Tech football team. We’ve written about two Gatorade Player of the Year winners in Erika McLeod and Dalton Daum.
We were there when all four Butte varsity basketball teams made it to state in 2013, and we documented all 24 wins by the undefeated Butte Central girls’ basketball team in 2015-16.
Remarkably, we were there to take photos as Butte High’s Kellen Lean hit a hole in one during the Butte Central Invitational golf tournament on Monday. The odds of catching that one shot had to be astronomical.
Every day since Aug. 17, 2012 we have had at least one local sports story.
It has been an incredible ride, and it is only just beginning. Butte Sports, which received a nice makeover by Mike Lake at the beginning of 2016, plans to be around for years to come, and it will do so with a price that simply cannot be beaten. Thanks to our many sponsors, the site will always be free.
I am so excited to reach our fourth birthday at Butte Sports. Looks like I’m going to have to take another celebratory run.