The crowd that packed the Maroon Activities Center held its breath as Butte Central’s Alex Murphy got off a last-second 3-point shot from the corner by the home bench.
Murph’s shot looked good, and it seemed like the ball was moving in slow motion before it hit the rim and bounced out. The greatest game I have ever seen ended with Butte High beating Butte Central, 53-51.
That game in February, 2006 will long be remembered by everybody who was there, and even those who weren’t. Many will remember it for Murphy’s near miss, while more will recall it for the argument between the two schools because Butte High’s administration wanted the game played in the Civic Center instead of BC’s beautiful new facility.
The news stories about the disagreement that nearly cost us the Butte High-Butte Central basketball rivalry made the national wires and opened some wounds that still haven’t healed.
I, on the other hand, have always remembered that game for Kyle Burgman and Casey Boyle.
Burgman, of course, scored 30 points to almost single-handedly lead the Bulldogs to victory.
Curtis Smith, himself one of the greatest Bulldog basketball players, said that performance by Burgman was the best in the history of Butte High basketball. Not one of the best. The best.
Butte High would have lost had it been merely the second best.
Boyle didn’t get into the game that night for Butte Central. He was sick during the day of the game, but he sat on the bench. He was a role player who didn’t see the court every game, so I really shouldn’t remember him at all from that night.
But when I thought back on that great game over the years I always remembered Boyle as the leader of the student section that night.
That’s because my most vivid memory of Casey at the MAC was when he was dressed up in an array of Maroons apparel and in the middle of the BC students.
He had a maroon band around his head, tied on the side like Rambo. He wore an old, tight basketball jersey, and I think his face was at least partially painted. I’m also pretty sure he was sporting a cape and holding a flag as he cheered for the Maroons.
For more than nine years my memory told me that Casey was the head MAC Maniac, or whatever it is they called themselves back then, the night of that classic Butte-Central game. I could have sworn that was his role that game until the other night when I went back and read some more stories from his senior season.
It must have been a girls’ game when I saw Casey dressed up like that. The details of my memory are a little fuzzy, yet somehow so clear.
Casey’s personality was always infectious, so naturally he was the leader of the BC fans when he was in the student section. He was always a happy-go-lucky kid, and even though he was very different from his father, you could always tell he was Bernie Boyle’s son.
That’s about as good a compliment you can give out because they don’t make ’em any better than Bernie.
The Maroons had no answer for Bugrman. BC stopped every other player in purple that night, but not No. 34. It was his best game, and that says a lot because he was the best player on the best Butte High team I ever saw.
That includes the 1984 team that won the Class AA State title, too.
I hold an unwavering belief that the Burgman-led Bulldogs would have captured the school’s first State title since that 1984 team if wasn’t for a cheap shot that fractured the skull of Tyler Gilder in the opening round against Great Falls High.
The Bulldogs were shell-shocked at the loss of a key player to such a gruesome injury. Coach John Thatcher admitted the injury took him off his game, and as Gilder was prepped for his long stay in the hospital, the Bulldogs blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead. That never happened to John Thatcher teams.
Bugrman’s Bulldogs, though, regrouped. The ’Dogs battled back with a vengeance to win three games in two days to claim the third-place trophy on their homecourt.
Butte High finished the season with 19 wins and 5 losses, and the Bulldog beat for the daily paper belonged to me. I talked to Burgman more than any other player after games that season. That was because he usually led the team in scoring, and, like his father Dale, Kyle was a great quote.
I realized that I might have interviewed Kyle too many times when Ryan Pollock, who was as funny and quick-witted as he was hardnosed on the court, gave me a jab as I talked with Kyle for a feature story in the Civic Center hallway late in the season.
“Christ,” Pollock said, shaking his head. “Now they’re even interviewing Burgman at practice?”
Burgman, who was All-State in football and basketball, played varsity for three years. As a sophomore he hit a huge 3-pointer to help the Bulldogs beat Bozeman in the first round of the 2004 State tournament in Missoula.
He was always a good player. As a senior, he was great. Without hesitation, Thatcher calls him one of the top 10 Bulldogs of all time.
“If you missed Kyle Burgman play you missed a show,” Thatcher says. “When he took the court, we were good. He wouldn’t accept it any other way.”
The point guard was at his very best against the Maroons on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006. That night, Burgman scored 10 of Butte High’s 14 fourth-quarter points.
Butte Central coach Brodie Kelly called him “unstoppable.” He was also cold-blooded.
Staring into the face of the BC student section, Burgman calmly hit two free throws for the final points of the game with 32.9 seconds left on the clock.
Boyle didn’t win any postseason basketball awards, but he was All-State in every other aspect of life. Whether it was with his special education students, his friends or someone he hardly knew, Casey was always positive and encouraging.
Even when he wasn’t dressed up ridiculously in the student section, he was impossible to dislike. Never has a seldom-used senior been so memorable, even if I couldn’t remember what I remembered him for.
My mom swears Casey was the best special education teacher she worked with in her many years working for the Butte School District. Not one of the best. The best.
They went to different high schools, but Casey and Kyle were close friends, exemplifying the silliness of all that adult fighting leading up to that contentious basketball game nine and a half years ago.
The younger generations don’t let purple and maroon stand in the way of friendship like the generations of their fathers.
When Casey and Kyle were killed in a one-vehicle car wreck last week, everybody lost. They were two remarkable guys from two amazing families, and their passing leaves a void in our community that can never be filled.
Almost as a symbolic twist, the crash occurred within a stone’s throw of the Maroon Activities Center, the epicenter of that nasty debate in 2006.
Now that basketball game with the heart-stopping ending and all those squabbles seems like such a distant memory.
Luckily, Kyle Burgman and Casey Boyle will always make sure it is a good one. Even if it is a little fuzzy.