By Bill Foley
The Mining City was the star of the show as the Butte Sports Hall of Fame added 14 individuals and five teams Saturday night at the Maroon Activities Center.
“I’m a proud son of Butte, and I always will be,” Gary Kane proclaimed as he sat down to interview with Ron Davis, the master of ceremonies for the event.
Kane was joined in the Class of 2022 by Tony Banovich, Corey Bolton, Ron Collins Sr., Don Douglas, Deanna Dugdale, Hoot Gibson, Bob Given, Ray Jay Johnson, Julie (Leary) Nadeau, Don “Lefty” Orlich, Tom Roberts, Debbie Silk and Ed Yeo.
Banovich, Gibson, Orlich and Yeo joined the Hall posthumously, but each was represented by a family member. Nadeau and Silk missed Saturday’s induction banquet because of health concerns, and Dugdale could not partake because, with a shortage in nurses, she had to work.
Teams entering the Hall will be the 1982 Frontier Conference champion Montana Tech volleyball team, the 1983 Frontier Conference Montana Tech football team, the 1990-91 state champion Butte High wrestling team, the 1995 state champion Butte High softball team, and the 1996 state championship Butte Central-Anaconda swimming team.
One common theme from the individuals was a deep pride in calling Butte their hometown.
Kane remembered his freshman year at the University of Montana, where he helped lead the Grizzlies to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances, with Butte High classmates Chad Lembke, Todd Ericson and Lance Allen.
Lembke, Ericson and Allen turned out to be stars on the Grizzly football team.
“We did the ‘We are the boys from Butte’ cheer every night for dinner in the cafeteria,” Kane said. “We were proud. Some would say too proud. Not me.”
Bolton, an All-American in football and wrestling at Montana Western, did not lose a wrestling match his final two years at Butte High school. Yet he gave so much credit to his teammates who helped him be part of four state championship teams with the Bulldogs.
“Our JV could have won a lot of varsity tournaments,” Bolton said. “We had a ton of talent.”
At Western, Bolton said playing for Butte coaches like Mick Delaney and Mick Dennehy certainly helped him out.
“I always had the support of being a Butte guy,” Bolton said. “They took care of me.”
Collins entered the Hall in large part because of his wresting officiating. He was known for doing the big matches as well as his legendary “Flyin’ Pin.”
He spoke of the honor of finally joining the Green Jackets as a Hall of Famer.
“When I put the jacket on yesterday, it was like this karma,” Collins said. “I’m one of the guys.”
Banovich is also one of the guys. His running career started at Butte Central, and he became a running icon in Montana and beyond. The Missoula Marathon has his finger prints all over it.
Nick Banovich, Tony’s son, spoke on behalf of his late father, who passed away in 2020.
“He absolutely loved to run,” Nick Banovich said. “It’s a passion that he continued with his whole life.”
Douglas was the quarterback on Butte High’s 1981 state championship football team. He has not spent much time in the Mining City since he left to play football at Nebraska and then the University of Montana.
He laughed when Davis introduced him as “Donnie Douglas.”
“I always know it’s someone from Butte when I hear ‘Donnie,’” Douglas said.
At Butte High, Douglas said he was carrying along in a tradition when he helped the Bulldogs win the title. As a seventh grader, Douglas said he watched Barry Sullivan, who entered the Hall in 2019, lead the Bulldogs to an undefeated season.
“I’d go to every game,” Douglas said. “We knew they were going to win, and we could say anything to the other team because they knew they were going to lose.”
He pointed to coach Jon McElroy, his assistants and even his coaches in junior high, including the late Gene Fogarty, another Butte Sports Hall of Famer.
“You were never nervous because you were always well prepared,” Douglas said.
After the Bulldogs beat Great Falls Russell in the championship game in Great Falls, Douglas said Collins was the first person he saw on the field. Collins’ son, Ron Collins Jr., was also on the championship Bulldog team. He entered the Hall of Fame in 2005.
“I was so happy I gave him the football,” Douglas said. “He said, ‘No Donnie, you keep it.’”
Gibson was the ultimate Butte guy. His name could strike fear, and it can also bring a smile.
He entered the Hall for all of his work raising money and doing whatever he could to help Butte kids.
Gibson’s grandson Justin Carlson spoke for the late Gibson. He said Hoot embodied the qualities that make the Mining City great.
“It makes me very proud to say Hoot was my grandpa,” Carlson said. “Hoot was no easy-going guy to get along with. But, at the end of the day, he’d shake your hand.”
Before heading to Montana State to become a standout for the Bobcats, Given played three varsity seasons for Butte High. The Bulldogs went 27-2 over those years.
He said growing up in Butte made him a better player.
“The people I grew up with, our camps was Clark Park,” Gibson said. “That was our training, being with our friends.”
Johnson had what Davis called the “biggest entourage in the history of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.”
“When you buy the tickets for them, that’s what happens,” Johnson joked. “Free meal.”
Johnson was a superstar for the Maroons, leading Butte Central to the 1978 state title on the hardwood. Then he went onto star at the University of Great Falls, which is now the University of Providence.
“I was blessed to have my father from Walkerville and my mother from Centerville,” Johnson said. “That meant two things: I could shoot and play defense.”
He pointed assistant coach Jay Vogelsang for giving him the best advice playing basketball.
“Coach Vogelsang said, ‘You don’t get your name in the paper for defense. Shot it,’” Jonson said. “Boy, I took that to heart.”
Orlich was a legend of Clark Park, where he once hit a home run off the great Satchel Paige. His son Scott spoke of his late dad, who passed up a chance to play professional baseball to serve the United States in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.
“He had no regrets,” Scott Orlich said of serving his country, “because he could come back and play in the Copper League.”
Lefty would work in the mines during the offseason and play baseball in the summer. Scott said his dad was probably better because of his work in the mines, which led to his big forearms and some really fast bat speed.
“I attribute that to hard work,” Scott said, “not in the game, but in the mines.”
Like with Collins, Roberts had long wanted to join the Hall of Fame. He could have entered as an athlete, helping lead the University of Montana to a Big Sky Conference title. He could have been in as a coach, where he led the Bulldogs to the 2009 Class AA State girls’ track title. He could have been in as a contributor thanks to his decades of officiating volleyball in high school and the Frontier.
The important thing is that he is in now.
“It’s one of the biggest honors you can get, representing Butte,” Roberts said. “When you do something here, they reach out and give you a big hug.”
Coaching Butte athletes made his job easier, Roberts said.
“There’s nothing better than coaching kids from Butte,” he said. “They’ll give you 110 percent every time.”
Silk was a great player for Butte High in the early days of girls’ basketball. Like with Johnson, she played at the University of Great Falls. Then she played at Boise State.
Her son, Christian, subbed for his mother. He said he remembers her more for being a great mom.
“I knew her more as a good mom and a good attorney,” he said, “working hard to make a good life for me.”
Yeo’s children also never knew him to be the great baseball player that he was in Butte and then at Rocky Mountain College. They knew him as a math teacher, golf coach and father.
“My sisters and I didn’t know him as an athlete,” his daughter, Heather, said of her late father. “That’ snot who he was to us.”
She said she did not know he dad was an athlete until she went to Billings to watch him be inducted into the Rocky Hall of Fame.
“We were kind of like, ‘Wow, we had no idea this is who he was,’” she said.
Dugdale and Nadeau received loud ovations as Davis read off their long list of accomplishments. Their presence was missed, they were still very much a part of the celebration.
Dugdale was a star at Butte High, while Nadeau was a Butte Central great.
Even the Montana Tech teams going in associated themselves with Butte.
Jo Buysse, came back to represent the 1982 Tech volleyball team that won its second straight Frontier Conference title.
“Hello Butte, Montana, I love you,” the coach said. “This is my second home.”
“Everyone on the team embraced Butte,” former Tech quarterback Doug Abbott said about his 1983 Oredigger football team.
Hall of Fame coach Jim Street introduced members of his 1990-91 team that captured the school’s 12th straight state championship on the mats.
“I’m real proud of them,” Street said. “Some of them are my good friends. They’re not even scared of me anymore.”
With that, one wrestler coughed that sounded a whole lot like he was calling B.S. on his coach.
Of all the teams that entered, the rowdiest was the 1995 Butte High state championship softball team. They came wearing matching shirts, and they did a Butte High cheer on stage after their introduction.
Coach Jim Hope said the women still look the same as they did 27 years ago. He joked that he aged faster because of the players.
“We had a great group of ballplayers,” Hope said. “They just wanted to play. You can’t ask for any more than a team that just wants to play.”
Hope said his team always had confidence. When the team was losing, he would be a nervous wreck. Not the girls.
“They would say, ‘Would you just relax,’” Hope said. “They knew they were going to win.”
The Butte Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 1987. The Class of 2022 brings the Hall to 214 individuals and 149 teams.
The next induction will take place in July of 2024. 1 comment