A while back, I received something I never even dreamed was possible.
Someone sent me an anonymous letter that was polite, complimentary and respectful.
Usually such letters, and I have received a bunch of them over the last 20 plus years, are what you would call “hate mail.”
This one began “Dear Bill,” and started off by calling me a “gifted writer.” (Click here to read the letter)
Usually, they start “Hey Foley,” and they never say nice things about my writing ability or anything else. I have had people mention my wife and children while telling me what a horrible person I am because my opinion about sports varies from theirs.
The one thing this polite anonymous letter had in common with the rest of them, though, is that the writer is dead wrong, even if I put 100 times more stock in what he wrote because of his flattery.
I say “he” because anonymous letters are usually written by men. I have found that women have no problem telling me off to my face.
This anonymous author says that Butte Central’s boys’ basketball team should not be considered co-champions with Hardin after the coronavirus halted the Class A State tournament after the semifinals.
Hardin was, after all, 23-0, and the Maroons were 20-4.
“Going into that championship game, that might have been, very very few would have favored the Maroons even though we might have all been rooting for them in Butte,” he wrote.
Sure, BC would have been the underdog based on records.
I would not have bet a whole lot of money on the Maroons to win that championship game. I also would not have bet one cent against them.
Did you see how well the Maroons were playing in that semifinal game? It was probably the best the Maroons played since they beat Stevensville in the championship game in 1992.
A Butte Central-Hardin matchup had the makings of an all-time great game.
Kevin Edgar, the son of the late, great sportswriter Jim Edgar, called it the “Greatest Game Never Played.”
We are all lost when the game was called off.
As I wrote previously, the Maroons owe no explanation or apology for being called champions. (Yes, I say champions, not co-champions.) They took care of everything they could control on their title quest.
With their season on the line, the Maroons played their best.
A win over the Bulldogs in the title game would have been a bit of an upset. But it certainly would not have been a shocker — like when Kalispell beat undefeated Butte High in the 1989 championship game.
It would not have been Duke beating undefeated UNLV in 1991.
Central, remember, gave the great Famous Lefthand and the Bulldogs all they could handle in the semifinals the year before in Great Falls.
“To say that their team deserves a championship is crazy,” the anonymous writer wrote of the Maroons. “You need to win the game to say that.”
He added that “Hardin did everything to lay claim to it and BC did not (four losses).”
Well, if BC is not a champion because the Maroons did not win the title game, then how could Hardin be? An undefeated champion is not more of a champion than a champion with one, two or even four losses.
A champion is a team that is still standing at the end, and Butte Central and Hardin were still standing.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only unbeaten team in the Super Bowl era.
Call me crazy (again), but I would not rank them as one of the top 10 greatest Super Bowl champions of all time. I might not put them in the top 20.
They were probably not as good as the 1984 Dolphins, who lost the Super Bowl.
Still, they are champions, and that cannot be taken away from them and their great coach.
Same goes for the Maroons. If you go to the Montana High School Association website and look up the list of basketball state champions, you will find the 2020 Maroons.
The Maroon Activities Center will be adding a championship banner.
The reason I bring this letter up nearly two months after the Maroons were crowned champions, is Butte High football and track coach Arie Grey.
Grey recently said that he was going to award a track and field varsity letter for 2020 to all the returning letter winners at Butte High in 2019.
I wonder what the letter writer would think of that.
Would he say that those athletes did not deserve their letters because they did not earn them in competition? The teams only had one week of track practice before the season was wiped out.
Grey’s decision, which was his best call since sending Jake Dennehy in to try a 46-yard field goal at the end of the 2012 Class AA state championship football game, means that two Bulldogs will join the exclusive 12-letter club.
Tommy Mellott and Haley Herron will both pick up their 12th letters, joining Anna Fabatz, Natalee Faupel and Ally Cleverly as the only Butte High athletes in that club.
Butte Central is taking a similar approach for its spring sports, meaning Aaron Richards and Emma Keeley will also finish their high school careers with 12 varsity letters.
Of course, none of these athletes will be remembered for their letters.
Instead, Mellott will be remembered as maybe being the greatest quarterback who ever played high school football in Butte.
In particular, I will remember him for one play late in the state championship game. On the play, Mellott scanned the field, stepped up like he was going to run, then stepped back to pass, rolled to his left, then threw an off-balanced dart to Banner Cetraro for a completion to set up a Butte High touchdown.
Never have I seen any play to rival that one.
I will remember Herron for being so kind and gentle while refereeing during the Special Olympics Montana State Basketball tournament. Then, she would rip an opponent’s head off while trying to win a game for Butte High.
That same competitive spirit is what I will remember about Keeley’s four remarkable years.
Richards, who will join Mellott at Montana State, will go down as a state champion.
Would it really matter if these athletes would have ended their prep careers with 11 letters? Does the 12th letter make them that much better than those great athletes who finished with 10 or 11?
Probably not. But it is an incredible achievement, and awarding these letters shows that the coaches understand that high school sports are about a whole lot more than what happens when the lights come on.
It is also about the countless hours in the offseason when these athletes are working hard while nobody is watching.
Butte High and Butte Central’s coaches and administrators deserve kudos for recognizing this and making sure these athletes do not lose out any more than they already have this spring.
Likewise, the MHSA deserves praise for the way it handled the state tournaments.
“Unfortunately, Butte Central needs to deal with the fact that they were not the best and until you beat the best you can’t say that you were,” the letter writer wrote. “They had a fine and successful season, but they were not the best.”
Fortunately, the record book will show that the letter writer is wrong.
But at least he was nice about it.
— Bill Foley, a gifted writer who wishes the anonymous writer would come forward so he would know who to attribute for the “gifted writer” compliment on his résumé, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. He plans to write more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.