About 20 years after the 1984 Butte High boys’ basketball team brought home the school’s last Class AA state title, I was given a disk of the championship game.
I rushed home to pop it into the DVD player so I could relive the days of the great Micky Tuttle and Chris Rasmussen. They were the top players destined to be Bulldog legends for all of eternity.
As I watched the Bulldogs take down Brad Salonen and Great Falls High 53-50 in Missoula, though, I kept asking myself the same thing: Who is this Tom Hemmert?
Why did I not remember Hemmert from that St. Patrick’s Day night in 1984?
Rasmussen scored 22 points and grabbed a ton of rebounds to lead the Bulldogs to the victory. Tuttle, who famously climbed up and sat on the rim to celebrate the win, scored 12.
Hemmert tossed in 12 points, too. He made five baskets and hit 2 of 3 free throws. They all seemed to come at clutch moments.
He was also in on a ton of other key plays to help the Bulldogs knock off a team that beat them in the Eastern AA Divisional tournament two weeks earlier in Great Falls.
Yes, Tuttle and Rasmussen were the Bulldogs stars. But Butte High did not win that title without Hemmert, and I could not believe that he was not remembered for it.
I am not saying there should be a street named after Hemmert, who scored a career-high 20 points in Butte High’s 64-59 semifinal win over Missoula Big Sky the night before.
But a St. Paddy’s Day drink would be a nice touch.
For the most part, Tom Hemmert was remembered in the Mining City more for being a pretty good jumper and the brother of the great Heidi Hemmert than he was for his own heroics for Butte High.
Of course, Hemmert is not alone. Sports history is full of unappreciated players who unintentionally hide in the shadows while their teammates shine in the spotlight.
It is not a life that only belongs only to offensive linemen.
For every Lexie Nelson, there is a Gwenn Abbott or Kalli McCloskey. For every Marc Murphy and Tom Kenney, there is a Dan O’Gara, the skinny lefthander whose putback sent Butte Central into overtime in their 76-73 win over Billings Central in the Class A title game a week before Hemmert’s clutch performance.
Which player led Butte Highs 2012 state championship football team in receptions? If you ask 100 Bulldog fans that question, 95 of them would tell you the answer is Dalton Daum. At least.
That is because they forget that Bryce Armstrong caught what was then a school-record 74 passes that season.
Without Armstrong, Butte High might still be looking for its first state title since 1991.
Of course, without that great offensive line, Butte High would have never won a game that year, but linemen are used to anonymity. Except when their number is called for a false start.
Some great athletes simply get overlooked simply for the sport for which they participate.
That is what leads us to 2011 Butte High graduate Ethan Shrader, who should go down as one of the greatest Bulldogs of all time.
While researching Butte High’s first boy to win 12 varsity letters, I had a lot of help as we collectively overlooked Shrader. It turns out the great Tommy Mellott was not the first Bulldog to pull off the incredible accomplishment.
In his years at Butte High from the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2011, Shrader lettered all four years in cross country, swimming and track.
Yet, many might not remember that name. Others will remember Shrader as the great swimmer who went onto place in the Western Athletic Conference while competing for the University of North Dakota.
While track usually takes its share of the limelight, cross country and swimming are often overlooked compare to the much more popular football and basketball, the seasons in which they share.
While I worked as a sportswriter in town during Shrader’s run, I was unaware of just how great he was. Sure, I knew his name, but I never covered one of his sports.
Instead, I was usually assigned to cover football, basketball and softball, sometimes covering the home teams in Anaconda and Dillon.
Shrader’s mother, Lynn, is the longtime coach of Butte High’s swimming team, and that is the sport for which I remembered Ethan.
After all, he was a back-to-back state championship in the 100-yard backstroke as a sophomore and junior. In all, he racked up eight individual All-State performance.
All-State goes to the top six place winners in each event, and Shrader did that in swimming with two firsts, five seconds and a third.
In track, a sport Shrader ran as a senior mainly to stay in shape after signing with North Dakota’s swim team, he earned All-State honors twice as a freshman and sophomore.
He placed second in the 1,600-meter race as a freshman. He also took fourth in the 3,200. The next year, Shrader took fourth in both.
It is Shrader’s cross country accolades, however, that really stand out to me.
Shrader ran to All-State honors twice for the Bulldogs, as a freshman and again as a sophomore.
I have long maintained that it is more difficult to earn All-State honors in cross country than it is in any other sport. Only 15 runners in each classification earn the honor each year.
That is the top 15 runners at the state meet.
In wrestling the top six earn the honor in each weight class. That is 84 Class AA boys who will be recognized as All-State in wrestling at the all-class state wrestling tournament in Billings next February.
That means up to 90 Class AA boys could earn All-State at the Class AA State track meet, which will be held in Butte along with the Class A meet next May. There is even more when you figure in the relays.
In football, counting offense and defense and first- and second-team selections, the Class AA had 127 All-State selections this past season. Of course, some players took two of them.
That is not to knock other sports in anyway. It is simply pointing out that mathematics says earning All-State cross country honors is very, very difficult.
By my count, Shrader is one of just nine Butte High boys to do it twice.
In 2008, Shrader placed second at state with a time of 15 minutes, 50 seconds. That makes him one of just three Bulldog boys to place in the top two.
Diego Hammett took second in 1989, and the great Mike Houlihan took second in 1974 before winning the state title in 1975 and 1976,
Houlihan was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Someday, Shrader should join him.
In the meantime, his name should be mentioned when discussing the greatest Bulldogs of all time. He certainly belongs there.
So, as we celebrate the holiday season, how about raising a glass for the underappreciated out there?
Let’s hear it for Shrader, Armstrong, Abbott, McCloskey and O’Gara. Let this column serve as a reason to talk about all the overlooked heroes who I failed to mention.
And when March 17 comes around, raise your pint of Tom Hemmert as you toast those 1984 champions.
— Bill Foley, who still maintains that the 1984 Butte High and Butte Central state champions walk on water, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 2 comments