One the sideline of a football game in Dillon about 12 years ago, I felt a tap on the back.
I turned around to see a shorter, well-dressed gentleman. He said, “Are you Bill Foley?”
That is not always the easiest question to answer, but this man looked harmless, so I said, “Yes.”
“Mr. Foley,” he said, “my name is Froggie Hull, and I read every story you write for the paper.”
Then, Froggie went on to praise my writing skills, and that moment will go down as one of the biggest honors of my life. Froggie Hull liked what I did, and that was pretty cool.
I knew of Froggiey for many years before I met him for the first time that day. I was starstruck and blown away by his compliments.
My grandma Jean once told me what it was like to shake hands with Bobby Kennedy. I figured this had to be close to that, only Froggie introduced himself to me.
The name Frank “Froggie” Hull, a nickname that was as funny as it was fitting, first left an impression on me in 1992 at the Butte High All-Sports Banquet.
That night I received the “Outstanding Boy Golfer Award,” which you can tell by the name that it is the most prestigious award the school offers. Froggie Hull was the featured speaker at the banquet
When you are a teenager at a banquet, every speaker is boring. Not Froggie. He kept the attention of us all the entire time he stood on the stage. He told stories, sang songs and recited poems.
One poem was about former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon.
I became a Bears fan in the 1970s because of Walter Payton. He is my all-time favorite player. McMahon, though, was my hero.
McMahon’s autobiography is easily the most instrumental book I have ever read. I helped me get through the depression, anxiety and frustration that come with the middle school years. (I wrote about that book four years ago.)
The quarterback had experience dealing with people who did not like him, and his book helped me learn to stop caring about what others thought of me. That was perhaps the most valuable lesson I ever learned.
At the banquet, Froggie recited a poem he wrote about McMahon and his days at Brigham Young University, where McMahon was judged more for what he was not than for what he was.
The poem highlighted the love-hate relationship BYU fans had with the cursing and beer-drinking quarterback. Cougar fans loved McMahon on Saturdays. They hated him the other six days.
The poem ended with a killer line that was burned into my mind forever. Tears of laughter streamed down my face as Froggie concluded that “There were no Mormon prayers for the Chicago Bears.”
That poem was beautifully funny and right on the mark. It was Mike Royko, William Blake and George Carlin all rolled into one. It was Froggie Hull.
Froggie died at the age of 85 on June 29, and everybody has a Froggie story, be it as a poet, singer, story teller or sports official.
One legendary tale is almost too good to be true. It involves Froggie and Ron “Swede” Kenison officiating an Anaconda High School basketball game in the last 1960s.
Anaconda coach Johnny Cheek stormed out onto the floor to argue with Froggie. He went on and on about what he saw as a bad call.
Eventually, Froggie had enough from the coach. He pointed out how far Cheek was on the court and said that he was going to call one technical foul for each step it took the coach to get back to the bench.
So, Cheek, a great character in his own right, dropped to his hands and knees and crawled back to the bench. Froggie, knowing a great rebuttal when he saw it and being true to his word, called no technical.
Froggie, who graduated from high school in Deer Lodge, served in the Army and used the GI Bill to go to college. In Dillon, he taught English, drama and journalism.
He was well known for his teaching, coaching and officiating, but he was legendary for story telling that almost always involved him breaking into song or poem. It did not matter if he had a crowd of one or 1,000, Froggie always delivered.
The last time I had the chance to talk with Froggie was when the Dillon Beavers hosted the 2012 Southwestern A Divisional basketball tournaments.
I was using the hospitality room to write my stories for the newspaper. One night, the room cleared out to watch the hometown team play, and I found myself alone in that room with Froggie.
He sat across from me as I finished up a game report and I closed my laptop computer, and we had a long conversation.
Eventually, I told Froggie how much I loved his poem about Jim McMahon. I asked him if he remembered that poem, and Froggie laughed at the absurdity of that question. He remembered all of his poems.
Then, to prove it, Froggie stood up and recited if with the same enthusiasm that he displayed 20 years earlier in front of the packed house at the Copper King Inn.
I was so happy to hear that poem again. It brought me back to 1992 when I sat next to my dad as we laughed in appreciation of great poetry and biting wit.
As much as I loved hearing that poem the first time, the second time was a 100 times better because it was just for me. I had to wipe away tears of laughter by the time Froggie got to the punchline.
Then, Froggie sang a song, then another, and another. He sang five or six songs and recited a few more poems to an enthusiastic audience of one.
A private concert with Bruce Springsteen could not have been better.
Since I heard about Froggie’s passing, I have been kicking myself thinking about that night. I had my digital recorder in my pocket as Froggie performed, but I never thought to turn it on.
Hopefully somebody did record Froggie’s songs, poems and stories, because the world needs to hear them all. I need to hear them.
They were perfect in their simplicity, were as meaningful as they were funny, and they were always executed flawlessly. The were 100 percent Froggie.
I would give anything to just one more time hear Froggie describe the lack of Mormon prayers for the Chicago Bears.
— Bill Foley, whose prayers definitely include the Monsters of the Midway, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74