By Bill Foley
Oh, the pain in Kale McCarthy’s left thumb is still very much there.
It just seems so trivial now.
The recent Butte High graduate will play Saturday’s 73rd Montana East-West Shrine Game at Montana Tech with a cast and a giant pad covering his left hand. That’s because his left thumb was surgically repaired in May.
The future Montana Tech player tore all the ligaments in his thumb playing football for the Bulldogs. He played through the injury the rest of the football and basketball seasons.
Finally, after track season, McCarthy went in for surgery, where a tendon from his wrist was taken and put in his thumb.
“It did hurt for a while. Basketball kind of sucked,” McCarthy said after a West Side practice on Tech’s Bob Green Field Wednesday. “I did it like Week 4 of football. The one game I clubbed it against Billings West. After that I just taped it up.”
The pain following the surgery subsided quickly Sunday afternoon during a Shrine Game orientation. That’s when Sudah Davis, Sloan Peterson, Kasey Morley and Emaline Musson, patients at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane, spoke to the West players about the struggles they have overcome.
Saturday’s game goes to help make sure patients like Davis, Peterson, Morley and Musson and their families never receive a bill for their care.
“It was eye opening,” McCarthy said. “I was kind of bummed about my thumb not working for the Shrine Game and stuff like that. It kind of puts it into perspective. It could be a whole lot worse.”
McCarthy, a valedictorian of the Butte High Class of 2019, was a standout on the Butte High defense as cornerback the past two seasons. He earned honorable mention all-conference. He racked up 44 tackles and four interceptions as a junior and 51 takedowns and 3 picks as a senior.
The highlight of the season was taking an interception 40 yards for a touchdown to put an exclamation mark on Butte High’s 56-13 Senior Night win over Billings Skyview. That was part of Butte High’s late season serge to secure a playoff spot.
On offense, McCarthy racked up 21 receptions for 291 yards and two touchdowns.
For the Shrine Game, McCarthy has made the move to safety, where he will likely play at Montana Tech following a redshirt season that will help his thumb heal.
He has never played safety before this week.
“It was different at first, but I’m starting to figure it out now,” McCarthy said. “You get to see the whole field. It’s kind of more fun. It’s nice just sitting back in the zone and reading the quarterback.”
Playing with a pad over his cast doesn’t seem to be slowing McCarthy down as he practices with the best of the West.
“I got an interception in practice today,” he said, answering a question about his ability to catch with his hand wrapped up. “It’s not too different. I still have my fingers out and stuff.”
McCarthy also has peace of mind knowing he isn’t doing more damage to the thumb.
“You don’t have to worry about it like I did last year,” he said.
McCarthy, who was added to the West roster from the alternate list in May, will be the second member of his family to play in the Shrine Game in the last three years. His first-cousin Kiley Caprara, also a Montana Tech Oredigger, played in the 2017 game in Laurel.
“I was just excited I had a chance, but part of me was hoping to get in,” he said of being named an alternate when the rosters were released when the clock struck Christmas Day. “I always wanted to play, especially since Kiley played in 2017. That’s when I really decided I wanted to play, too.”
McCarthy said he stayed up late on Christmas Eve to see if his name was on the list.
“On Christmas Eve I saw I was on the alternate list, and I was pumped,” he said. “I knew I had a shot.”
Now that that shot is a reality, McCarthy said he is having a fun getting one more chance to play with Bulldog teammate Rylan Waananen and playing for Butte High assistant Bryan Arntson, who is a West assistant this year.
He also is enjoying playing with friends Cade Holter and Clay Fisher of Butte Central, and he is getting the chance to make new friendships with former rivals.
“Meeting the new kids is cool, too,” McCarthy said. “You didn’t really like them that much, then you get to know them and they’re great kids.”
More importantly, McCarthy said he is relishing the chance to play for courageous people like Davis, Peterson, Morley and Musson.
“It makes it fun to know who you are playing for,” McCarthy said. “It’s bigger than you. It’s a great cause. It’s for the kids.”
Note: Butte Sports will profile all four Butte players on the West roster leading up to Saturday’s game. Other Mining City athletes playing Saturday are Cade Holter and Clay Fisher of Butte Central and Rylan Waananen of Butte High.