Here is the amazing thing about Tom LeProwse: Butte and Bozeman both claim him as their very own.
He is loved by Bulldogs and adored by Hawks.
Imagine that. He is an icon in both sides of an arch rivalry. That is like being in the Packers Ring of Honor and the Bears Hall of Fame.
It is like being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with a Dodgers hat and a Giants jersey.
Yes, Tom LeProwse is Tommy Lasorda and Willie Mays rolled in one. He is perhaps the most unique and one of the most beloved sports figures in the history of our state.
When Tom passed away at the age of 94 last week, it was felt in all four corners of Montana. He will be missed by so many, particularly in Butte and Bozeman.
In Bozeman, they know that Tom LeProwse is theirs. He was a Bozeman Hawk and a Montana State Bobcat.
He was a legend in coaching and so instrumental in the football, wrestling, swimming and track programs at Bozeman High School. He is to the Hawks what Swede Dahlberg was to the Bulldogs.
At Bozeman High School, Tom is still the winningest all-time coach for the Hawks. He led the Hawks from Class A to Class AA, laying the foundation for a program that almost always ranks among the best in the state.
After Tom’s passing, the Bozeman Hawk Football page referred to him as the “Godfather of Bozeman High School Athletics.”
LeProwse led the Hawks to three state titles in swimming and one in wrestling. Overall, his football, wrestling and track teams won 30 divisional titles.
In Butte, we know that Tom LeProwse is ours. The Mining City is where he got his start.
Tom was a 155-pound tackling machine for Dahlberg’s Butte High teams. He played every second of pretty much every game.
From 1944 through 1946, LeProwse hardly left the field. He said he missed one quarter and three plays while lettering three years for the Bulldogs.
That was back when only 14 or 15 players lettered each season.
Tom helped Butte High advance to the championship game in 1945.
After graduating from Butte High, Tom kicked off to start the very first Montana East-West Shrine Game in Great Falls back in 1947. Then he raced downfield and registered the first tackle.
Tom married his wife Joan after the game to pull off the trifecta.
Tom’s career at Montana State was much like his Butte High years. He rarely came off the field.
“I played six 60-minute football games for Montana State,” LeProwse remembered in 2019. “In the early times, the clock did not stop when they moved the chains. So, your time went pretty fast. You were probably on the field for an hour and a half instead of 2 hours and 15 minutes.”
As coach of the Hawks, LeProwse gave Butte native Sonny Holland his first coaching job. Holland, of course, is another coaching legend Bozeman and Butte lay claim to. Holland won a national championship, and he was named Bobcat of the 20th Century at Montana State.
Holland and LeProwse remained close until Tom’s death. The two played countless rounds of golf together at the Valley View Golf Club in Bozeman. LeProwse joked that he taught Holland everything he knew about coaching.
In 2019, Tom became Butte High’s 13th Diamond B. It was an honor he looked forward to for decades. He talked about it all the time.
A Butte High football letterwinner becomes a Silver B after 25 years. He is a Golden B at 50 years and a Diamond B at 75. Not many make it that far, and Tom knew it.
He longed to be a Diamond B like children long for Christmas.
Once he became a Silver B 50 years earlier, Tom LeProwse made every single Silver B’s Night in Butte. Every single one of them.
Even when he coached football in Bozeman, Tom somehow figured out a way to come to Butte for Silver B’s Night.
One year he celebrated Silver B’s Night with the Bulldogs at Naranche Stadium and then coached against the Bulldogs the next week.
Closing in on his 94th birthday last fall, Tom walked across the Naranche Stadium turf with his fellow Silver B’s. Tom walked a bit gingerly and with a cane, but he still had that huge smile upon his face.
He made the Silver B’s Banquet every December, too. That is when the Bulldogs hand out letters to the current players.
In 2013, the state champion Hawks held their championship banquet the same night as the Silver B’s Banquet. Butte folks will proudly tell you that Tom made the drive to the Mining City that night.
Tom was a loyal Bulldog. He was a loyal Hawk, too.
Bozeman’s invitational wrestling tournament is one of the best in the state. It is named in honor of Tom.
This past January, Tom was there to watch the tournament and lend a helping hand.
“His love of student-athletes was quite obvious,” Bozeman activities director Mark Ator said on Twitter following Tom’s passing. “He was on the podium and helping out with awards this year at the Tom LeProwse Wrestling Tourney.”
Tom also never missed a Shrine Game. He canceled a trip to Alaska for a wedding to attend the 2019 game in Butte. He flipped the coin for the opening toss and served as grand marshal of the parade.
All weekend long, Tom sported that giant smile below his cowboy hat. Tom was always smiling and laughing, and he was almost always wearing his hat and boots.
In Tom’s last appearance at the Butte Sports Hall of Fame Green Jacket Ceremony, he donned a green shirt, boots, cowboy hat and a bolo tie.
Like with Silver B’s Night, Tom always made it back for the Butte Sports Hall of Fame induction. He entered the Hall in 1997, and he was almost always among the first to buy a banquet ticket.
He was always the first to send in a large donation check once the selections were announced.
In February, Tom proclaimed that he would be at this year’s Hall of Fame induction and the Shrine Game.
It should go without saying that he will still be very much at both events in spirit.
Tom was inducted into the Montana Coaches Association, and he helped create the All-State selections as we see them now.
Yes, in his 94 years, Tom lived at least 188.
In the end, he gave all the credit to playing football for Dahlberg at Butte High.
“If I hadn’t played Butte High football, I don’t know where I’d have been,” LeProwse said. “My life has been really a storybook.”
He certainly lived his life by the old motto: You can take a boy out of Butte, but you can’t take the Butte out of the boy.
“Butte’s always been my hometown,” LeProwse said. “You grow up in Butte and it stays in you forever.”
Yet, Tom lived out his long, happy life in Bozeman. He was beloved by his hometown and his adopted hometown.
The love of one city was just not enough for Tom LeProwse. It took two.
Butte and Bozeman are two rival cities. The Hawks and Bulldogs don’t like each other a whole lot. Both, however, love Tom.
Both cities claim him as their very own.
Here is the really amazing thing about Tom LeProwse: Both of us are right.
— Bill Foley, who has also skipped family weddings, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 3 comments
Robert OlsonMay 17, 2022, 4:36 pm
Great story Bill , I can tell it was heart felt . Thank you for a great tribute to my Uncle Tom LeProwseREPLY
Carl Fizz GeertzMay 18, 2022, 8:27 am
This could be the "Best Story" ever written for a "Great Man". Tom LeProwse was all this and "More". His wife and two daughters are amazing. We had a Great Coach here in Sheridan coached by Mr. LeProwse, we called Mr. Great Attitude, (Bob Simpson). The thousands of lives made better by the influence of these Great Men is awesome.REPLY
Don Petritz@Carl Fizz GeertzMay 18, 2022, 11:34 am
Bill, great article and tribute to a deserving coach and mentor.REPLY