By Bill Foley
John Thatcher was not a self-made person.
He is unquestionably one of the best athletes and coaches in the history of the Mining City, but he wants everyone to know that he did not do anything by himself.
“This is not about me,” Thatcher told a crowd of about 100 Thursday afternoon at the Knights of Columbus Hall. “This is about the people you surround yourself with.”
Thatcher surrounded himself with some great people.
The retired coach spoke to a crowd that included members of his 1978 state championship Butte Central boys’ basketball team as well as members of the 2022 BC title team.
The KC, which has become a de facto Butte sports museum, added banners of the two championship teams to its main hall. It also posted a banner honoring Thatcher, who had a son, daughter and grandchildren in the crowd.
Bernie Boyle, who planned the event, said that more banners are on the way. One will honor Ray Jay Johnson, a member of Thatcher’s 1978 team who will be inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. The other will recognize the nine Butte guys who helped Montana State win a national football title in 1976.
One of them Butte Bobcats was Don Ueland, who spoke briefly at the KC Thursday.
Ueland pointed out that Thatcher was an assistant coach when BC won three straight state football crowns in the early 1970s.
“The good thing about John is afterward he still has your back,” Ueland said. “He wasn’t always easy to play for, but we respected each other.”
BC current coach Brodie Kelly, who happens to be Thatcher’s Godson, spoke first. Then Johnson and former Thatcher teammate Mike Judd talked about Thatcher.
Judd and Thatcher were teammates at BC and a Palomar College in California. Judd and Johnson said Thatcher was the real deal on the basketball court.
“He probably would have gone and played in the pros if it wasn’t for his father getting sick,” Johnson said. “I’m so proud to call him my coach, but also my best friend in life.”
Johnson pointed out that a quote on Thatcher’s sign reads “Fear no one. Respect everyone. Never forget where you came from.”
“Every team from Butte should have that in its locker room,” Johnson said.
He said that quote is something Thatcher would put at the end of the many letters he would write to his championship team.
“Anyone and everyone who knows him as been touched by him,” Johnson said of Thatcher. “Probably physically,” he joked, “but hopefully spiritually and mentally too.”
Thatcher, who was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, pointed to his players, coaches and family members for his success.
“I consider myself a product of people,” Thatcher said. “I’ve taken from everybody. Everybody.”
Thatcher, who also led Butte High to the Class AA state championship game in 2004 and 2007, mentioned some of his coaches. He talked about Mike McGrady, his football coach at the St. Mary’s grade school.
“Mike McGrady taught me about the desire to win,” he said. “This guy meant so much to me.”
He also mentioned central coach Otto Simon, who picked Thatcher up on the junior varsity team after he was cut from the varsity BC team as a junior.
“For the first time in my life, somebody saw something in me,” Thatcher said. “He believed in me.”
The coach mentioned his father, a non-nonsense guy who would not put up with complaining about coaches from his children.
“I came form a dad who was an old miner,” Thatcher said. “If you don’t have somebody pushing you, you’re not going to get better.”
The 1977 Maroons pushed the 1978 champions to be better, Thatcher said.
Dubbed the “Bad News Bears,” the 1976-77 team started off badly. The Maroons lost their opener by 40 points. After a win to even their record they lost 10 games in a row.
Central then won nine straight and went on to beat top-ranked Dillon to qualify for the state championship. They won BC’s first game at a state tournament in years. The next year, they gave BC a state title.
“They were special,” Thatcher said of the 1977 team. “Then they drove the team in ’78 to the title.”
Thatcher also mentioned the current Maroons, who sat in the front. His 1978 team was named the Butte Central “Team of the Century” near the end of the 20th Century.
“They will be the team of the 21st Century,” Thatcher said of the Maroons, who went 26-1 and edged Lewistown on a 27-foot buzzer beater by Dougie Peoples.
Peoples, though, is the second-best shooter in school history, not the first, Thatcher said. That distinction belongs to Judd.
“If you have a great senior year, then maybe I’ll change that,” Thatcher said.
Johnson also addressed the current Maroons.
“I’m not going to put any pressure on you, but you better have another one next year,” he said.
Kelly was accepting a banner for the second time in three years. He thanked Boyle for adding to BC’s tradition of success.
“This hall and what he has going on is awesome,” Kelly said of Boyle. “What a cool tradition he’s got going on. It means so much to have banners up here. It just means so much to these guys.”
Thatcher also mentioned Boyle and the KC, which was the real star of the show.
“I want to thank Bernie Boyle for everything he’s done for the community,” Thatcher said. “This building is a treasure.” 5 comments
Ted RichardsJuly 14, 2022, 8:14 pm
Great article- well deserved honorsREPLY
Rick Martin@Ted RichardsJuly 15, 2022, 4:39 am
Congrats John. Quite a storyREPLY
Bob RittierodtJuly 15, 2022, 5:46 am
Great article Bill. Coach, my only regret is that I didn’t meet you 35 years sooner. You are a wealth of knowledge and inspiration (maybe fear) You have given more to Montana Basketball than people know. It is a pleasure to listen to you correct Panisko and I on the air. Congrats John you are like a brother to me.REPLY
John ConnoleJuly 15, 2022, 5:47 pm
Congrats John, we’ll deserved!!REPLY
Jodi JonesJuly 17, 2022, 2:52 pm
How awesome to see my dad mentioned!REPLY
If he were still alive, he would feel so honored
My dad, Mike McGrady, was a Butte man and a sports enthusiast through and through ❤️