State C a homecoming for Chris Toivonen

For once, Butte’s Bob and Ginger Toivonen don’t have to travel very far to watch their son coach.

Chris Toivonen is the head coach of the Superior High School boys’ basketball team. His Bobcats are in town this week for the Class A State basketball tournament at the Butte Civic Center.

“My parents are great about following the team,” Chris Toivonen says. “They’ve gone pretty much everywhere. They go to Arlee and Charlo and pretty much everywhere in between. Wherever state was, I’m sure they would have been there.”

As it is, state is being played in the same arena where Toivonen played for Butte High 22 years ago, and the Bobcats are 24-0 and one of four teams left with a chance to win the Class C title.

Superior plays Westby-Grenora in tonight’s 8 o’clock semifinal game at the Butte Civic Center as the Bobcats hunt their first state championship in basketball since 1963. Fairview plays Box Elder in the 6:30 semifinal.

Toivonen is in his second stint as the head coach at Superior. He led the Bobcats from 1998 to 2005 before stepping aside because of his growing family.

“We have little ones, and I needed to get out of it for a while,” Toivonen says. “The time is so demanding.”

Toivonen has been married to his wife Jamie (Wolstein) for 14 years. The couple has two young boys, Conor and Carson.

Toivonen, a 1992 Butte High graduate, started for the Butte High basketball team as a senior. He modestly downplays how good he was in purple and white.

“I was pretty decent, but nothing like Gary Kane or those guys who were such amazing players,” he says with a laugh. “Trying to follow Gary Kane, Todd Ericson and Curtis Smith and those guys … It was great to be growing up through the ranks watching those guys. They showed you the right way to do it, that’s for sure.”

Toivonen says he isn’t even the best athlete in his family.

“She was a better athlete than me,” Toivonen says of his wife. “She played volleyball for the Griz.”

During his first stint as coach, Toivonen led the Bobcats to the 2002 Class C State tournament. His team went to the Class B State tournament in 2005.

“It’s so hard to make it because there’s so many team,” Toivonen says. “There’s some very, very good teams. If you lose focus at all, somebody is back in the game even if you think you have the game in control.”

The 40-year-old Toivonen got back into the coaching business as the junior varsity coach during the 2010-11 season. He was the co-head coach in 2011-12 before taking over the duties on a solo basis last season.

This season, his team is on a tear. That includes the Bobcats winning the Western C Divisional tournament last week at the Civic Center.

“I have had some dandies, but I would say this is my best team,” Toivonen says.

The Bobcats are a team built on defense, something Toivonen says he learned while playing for the likes of head coach Pat Foley and his assistants Dan Lean and Chuck Uggetti at Butte High.

“We had some good coaches, no doubt about it,” Toivonen says. “The thing I always valued about what they brought to the table was they always showed you how to play defense and to value it. I never claimed to be the greatest defensive player, but I sure value it with my teams. I can thank them for that.

“Last week we played those three teams in divisionals and they were all averaging 60 to 70 points,” Toivonen adds. “We held them to an average of 40.”

In Thursday’s win, the Bobcats held Broadus to 39 points.

“I’ve challenged the kids to play every single possession like it’s your last on the defensive end,” Toivonen says. “If we can get stops, then we’re giving ourselves a chance — even if we go through a scoring drought or lose focus for a while.”

Toivonen got his first degree from Montana Tech before gaining a teaching endorsement at Montana Western and a graduate degree from the University of Montana.

He teaches math at Superior, something that is not surprising considering Toivonen’s father, a former Butte High softball coach, taught math at Butte High. His mother was a math professor at Montana Tech.

His parents, of course, will be in attendance at the Civic Center all weekend. So will Jamie, Conor and Carson.

Toivonen will also have the support of his hometown as his Bobcats try to capture that always-elusive state championship.

“I wouldn’t want it to be anywhere else,” Toivonen says. “I’ve been in Superior for 15 years now, and the people of Butte are just amazing. I have so many people come up to me and just say hi. Butte is a special place, there’s no doubt about it.”

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