Arie Grey has big shoes to fill

Arie Grey takes over as the head boys’ track coach this spring at Butte High. Now, that might be a big story to the most folks, but at Butte High School that is huge news.

Grey becomes only the fifth head boys’ track coach for the Bulldogs in the last 96 years. That is correct the last 96 years. During that time span, only Mike Danahey, Harry ‘Swede’ Dahlberg, George Tarrant and Charlie Merrifield have been in charge of the fortunes on the track for Butte High.

I would find it hard to believe there is any high school in the country that has been led by fewer coaches in one program over the last century than boys’ track and field at Butte High.

This remarkable string began in 1919 when Mike Danahey became the head coach. Actually, it was the second go-around for Danahey as the head skipper of the Butte High track program. He was the head coach from 1915 and 1916 prior to World War I. When the war to end all wars ended George Bourquin took over for one spring as head coach of the Bulldogs in 1918. He left after one year and Danahey took over the job of leading Butte High.

Danahey had immediate success with the Bulldogs. They won the state championship three straight years from 1919 to 1921. In his final season, the Butte club slipped to fourth at the state finals. During his six years as head track coach, Danahey produced fifteen individual state champions.

Danahey stepped aside to allow Harry ‘Swede’ Dahlberg to take over the head coaching duties in the spring of 1923. The former Butte High athlete would guide the Bulldogs as head coach for the next 44 years. Dahlberg finally stepped down from the sport he really loved following the 1966 season when his beloved Bulldogs won the state title.

Swede had an enormous amount of success on the track winning  thirteen state championships. His teams won four titles in five years from 1924-28, only losing the crown once in 1926 when they placed second. After taking home titles in 1931 and 1933, Dahlberg’s purple-clad team won four straight championships from 1935 through 1938.  In the next nine years, Butte High placed second eight times with the other showing an unofficial state title in 1943 when the Missoula Invitational meet counted as the state crown. It would be another 20 years before Dahlberg won again in 1963. He then closed out his glittering career with the state championship in 1966. Harry ‘Swede’ Dahlberg produced 93 individual state champions and had eleven relay teams come home first at the state meet.

The legendary Dahlberg was replaced in 1967 by George Tarrant.  He would oversee the Butte High boys’ track program for seven seasons before stepping down after the 1973 season. Tarrant never led a state title team, but two of his teams did place second in 1969 and 1973. Tarrant coached an individual state champion in each of his first four seasons as the head coach.

Tarrant was replaced by Charlie Merrifield in 1974. He would stick around as head coach at Butte High until last spring when he retired after 40 years as the head skipper.

Merrifield had immediate success at Butte High. He won back-to-back state titles in his first two Seasons 1974 and 1975. Merrifield’s team came back to win championships again in 1981 and 1982. Since then Merrifield and the Butte High team has experienced hard luck at the state meet. They placed second six times and came in third on two other occasions.

The Bulldogs had troubles winning state titles under Merrifield over the past thirty years, but they had plenty of success when it came to state champions. Merrifield was the head coach for 60 individual state champions with eight relay teams coming home first.

The Bulldogs’ program has been remarkable over the last four coaches spread over the last 96 years. Grey, an individual state champion at Powell County High School in Deer Lodge, now steps into the starting blocks for his first spring at Butte High. If history and the legend of what has transpired before him remains, Grey and the Bulldogs might be beginning a new era of success at Butte High School in track and field.