The athletes we let slip away

John Sullivan walked through the hallway of the Butte Civic Center at halftime of a Butte Central basketball game during the 1986-87 season.

A couple of the brothers who taught at the Catholic school took notice of Sullivan, the star player who graduated from BC the previous school year. The brothers looked up at Sullivan and then looked at each other as one said, “We should have flunked him.”

Sullivan was a great player for the Maroons, to say the least. He helped the team win the Class A state championship as a sophomore in 1984. A year later, he was once again a key player as the Maroons placed second. BC took fourth at state his senior year.

Yes, I’m sure the brothers knew that Sullivan would not have been eligible to play had he flunked and had to spend another year in high school. Those facetious teachers, though, might have been on to something that night.

John Sullivan is one guy we should have never let get away.

Sullivan is now the principal at Ennis High School, and I’m sure he is a very fine educator. Still, whenever his name comes up, I can’t help but think that the leaders of the community really let us down.

Seriously, nobody could offer Sullivan a job to stay in the Mining City, whether it be in education or any other sector? Nobody could make up a vice president of something job, even if that job was fictitious?

You telling me that nobody could have given Sullivan a corner office that he didn’t have to go to? Really?

On Saturday night at the Maroon Activities Center in Butte, we got to see firsthand what we were missing when we let our star athletes leave town.

Sullivan’s son, Connor, scored 24 points to lead the Ennis Mustangs to a 52-40 win over Manhattan Christian in the championship game of the District 11/12-C basketball tournament.

The district title was the first for Ennis in 18 years. Sullivan and the Mustangs will play at the Butte Civic Center this week during the Western C divisional tournament.

The younger Sullivan will once again show Butte Central — or even Butte High fans — what they are missing.

As Thomas Magnum would say, I know what you are thinking. Sullivan is playing Class C ball. How can we know that he’d be any good playing for the Class A Maroons or the Class AA Bulldogs?

Trust me, Connor Sullivan would have been a star for either team. He was a beast on the basketball court for the Mustangs’ varsity team as a freshman. By my estimation, he would have started three years — at least — on varsity for the Maroons or Bulldogs.

Sullivan, who isn’t as tall as his dad but still listed as 6-4 and 225 pounds in football, might be even better on the gridiron.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, take Rob Ash’s word for it. The Montana State football coach got Sullivan to commit to the Bobcats when he was still a junior in high school.

Now a senior, Sullivan earned All-State honors last fall while helping the Mustangs win their first state title since 1982.

Connor, though, might not be the best athlete in his family. Local basketball fans who went to the Class C tournaments a few years ago will tell you Sullivan’s sister Mikayla was an incredible talent on the basketball court.

She was one of the best girls’ basketball players I ever watched play, and I swear she could have played for the Bobcats or Grizzlies.

She chose volleyball and played a year at Montana Tech. She was really good that year, too.

Mikayla Sullivan could have been the final piece to get the Butte High girls’ basketball team that elusive state title a few years ago. She could have made the 2011 state champion Butte Central team illegal.

The same could be said for the daughters of John Sullivan’s BC teammate Tom Kenney in Polson.

Or the Dennehy girl on the Billings West state championship basketball team in 2011. Or that Dennehy boy on the Kalispell Glacier football team this year. Or the honorable Brian Morris’ children.

These are just a few examples of great players we let get away because their parents went out of town for work.

You’re telling me not one businessman could have found jobs their dads didn’t have to go to? It’s not like we don’t have the room.

With all those big buildings in Uptown Butte, we have plenty of prime office space to leave empty.

—Bill Foley, whom the brothers had no problem flunking, writes a column that appears on on Tuesdays. Email him at Follow him at



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