The greatest of Orediggers is somehow unsung

The greatest of Orediggers is somehow unsung

Imagine someone in Butte not knowing Dougie Peoples if they saw him.

That sounds ridiculous after the Butte Central junior hit the 27-foot shot heard around Montana to give Butte Central the Class A State basketball title in March.

When someone sees Dougie in a restaurant, they take notice.

Imagine someone in Butte not knowing when they are standing in the grocery store line next to Sindou Diallo.

That thought is completely absurd.

The electrifying Diallo, who recently helped lead Montana Tech to the Frontier Conference title, is the most exciting basketball player this town has seen since “Flyin’” Brian Vaughns soared through the HPER Complex nearly 40 years ago.

Everybody knows Sindou when they see him.

Do not even think about someone in Butte not knowing Colt Anderson when he is out and about in his hometown.

It would never happen.

Yet probably the greatest Oredigger of all-time and one of the best athletes to ever call the Mining City her home is wallowing in anonymity.

Becca Richtman just wrapped up her Montana Tech career that is a career for the ages.

Richtman, a native of Elburn, Illinois, became a four-time national champion and a 10-time All-American while competing in cross country and track for the Orediggers.

She won the 10,000-meter race at the NAIA Track & Field National Championship in Gulf Shores, Alabama last week. Then she placed second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000 meters.

Last year, Richtman won the steeplechase, even though the entire Frontier Conference does not have a track that can hold the event.

In March, Richtman came within three hundredths of a second of winning the “triple crown” at the NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships. She won the mile and 3,000-meter races before placing second by an eyelash in the 5,000.

Yet most people in town would not recognize Richtman if she sat next to them at Silver Bow Pizza while wearing an Oredigger track hoodie that had her name on the back.

It sounds crazy, but it is true.

Part of that obscurity comes with the sport.

While the combined Class AA and Class A State track meets drew a crowd of about 8,000 each day to Butte’s Charlie Merrifield Track and the Gene Fogarty Complex, college athletes often compete in front of nearly empty stadiums.

Even at the big schools, track athletes usually perform in front of small-time crowds.

The tiny, yet very nice track facility at Montana State literally sits in the shadow of the football stadium. Many people who attended Bobcats games do not even know it is there.

Butte Central graduate Sean “Diesel” Ferriter competed there for the Bobcats. In 2015, Ferriter, who has one of the all-time great nicknames, qualified for the NCAA National Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the Hammer throw.

Most people sitting next to him in class did not even know Ferriter was an athlete, let alone one competing on the national level. Nobody called him by his nickname.

In football, Tommy Mellott’s grandma was a celebrity in Bozeman after the former Butte High quarterback led the Bobcats to the national championship game.

And everybody started calling him “Touchdown Tommy,” even though Tommy prefers to be simply known as Tommy.

Another reason for Richtman’s overshadowing is that she never got the chance to actually compete in the Mining City in her years at Tech.

This year marked the first season Tech had a full track team — and Richtman helped lead the Orediggers to the Frontier Conference title — so the team did not host a meet.

So far, all of the Oredigger cross country races over the program’s first two seasons have been out of town, and that is too bad. Some of us really would like to see her run.

The one race in the area that Richtman competed in is the 2021 Wulfman Continental Divide Trail Race, and the 14-kilometer race winds through the mountains, making it nearly impossible to watch anything but a few seconds of the start and finish.

Throw in the fact that the first half of her career at Tech came in the middle of a pandemic lockdown, and Richtman seems to be the most underappreciated athlete this city has ever known.

What we know of Richtman comes from the results. We know her from how other track people talk about her.

She is a true pioneer for Montana Tech. She put the budding program on the map.

The Bobcats and Grizzlies would be thrilled to have her. So would so many other bigger schools around the program.

So, how did Tech get such a great athlete to come run in Butte?

Well, Tech got lucky on a couple of levels. First, the Orediggers hit it way out of the park by hiring Zach Kughn, a young assistant from NCAA Division II Winona State.

He brought Richtman along with him because the runner had completely bought into the program when she worked with him at Winona.

The second reason Richtman is running at the NAIA level is, in her words, she was “very terrible” when she first ran in college. Through hard work and commitment, Richtman turned into the superstar that she is today.

She remembers the day when she flipped the switch that put her on track to being a great runner.

“At one point, I was definitely Zach’s least favorite athlete because I wasn’t good, but I really wanted to be. I was very stubborn,” Richtman said in a recent appearance on KBOW Overtime. “He was very clearly saying, ‘You’re not putting in the work. I don’t know what you think is going to happen. You’re just going to wake up and be good one day?’

“He was giving all of his time to me, and I was still pretty terrible. We got into an argument one day. At indoor conference, I wanted to run the 1K. He was just like, ‘You are not good enough. You’re not good enough to run this. You have to earn this.’

“I was like, ‘I want to be good. I really want to be good.’ It was at that meet that it really switched over for me. He was like, ‘I’ll get you there. You’ve just got to believe; you’ve got to trust and be willing to make the sacrifices. I upped my mileage and never looked back.”

For years to come, the story of Becca Richtman can serve as an example for other aspiring runners at Montana Tech and beyond.

She will be a Hall of Famer, and her name will forever be remembered along the lines of Oredigger greats like Diallo, Vaughns, Nolan Saraceni and Don Heater.

In all our years, we might never see anyone like Becca Richtman ever again.

But if she was standing next to you in line at Pork Chop John’s, you probably would not even know it.

— Bill Foley, who is usually standing next to you in line at Pork Chop John’s, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.

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2 Comments

  • Brad Newman
    May 31, 2022, 9:21 am

    Becca Richtman put in the thousands of hours and miles required of a champion. And she did it on lonely roads and empty trails far off the front page. Ms. Richtman reflects the drive and dedication that makes a champion. Foles, thanks for shining the spotlight on Becca Richtman’s accomplishments.

    REPLY
  • Bob Johnson
    May 31, 2022, 9:35 am

    I saw her run a few times and your article is spot on. A very good runner and a fierce competitor.

    REPLY

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