Working on the sports desk years ago, I answered the phone as a coach called to report the stats for a Philipsburg boys’ basketball game.
As I talked with the coach, I asked him his name.
“Ron Estes?” I asked enthusiastically. “Are you related to Wayne?”
As it turns out, I was talking to the brother of the great Wayne Estes, an Anaconda and Montana legend. I thought that was pretty cool.
Estes, of course, was on his way to a career in the NBA before he died in a tragic accident after a Utah State basketball game in 1965.
My dad told me of the great Wayne Estes before I could even make a basket. Legend has it the Boston Celtics had a trade arranged with the Minneapolis Lakers so they could draft Estes in the regional draft.
At least I always hoped that was true.
Like so many who also never knew him, I was heartbroken by the tragedy of what might have been. Even though he died nearly a decade before I was born, I was crushed by the untimely death of the great Wayne Estes.
It did not matter that his home town was a fierce rival of mine.
Anacondans hurt for generations.
When I talked to Ron that night, he was the father and coach of a budding young star in Philipsburg named Michael Estes.
How cool would it be if Michael Estes played for the Copperheads? I thought that out loud to everyone and no one in particular.
The next basketball season, that was a reality. Ron moved his family back to the Smelter City so Michael and then his younger siblings Rochi and Mia could play for the Copperheads.
Those Estes kids more than lived up to the great name in Anaconda, and Rochi turned out to be one of my favorite players to watch at any level.
He stood maybe 5-foot-9, and he might have been 150 pounds, but his presence on the basketball court was gigantic. You had to guard him once he crossed half court because he had the range of Chris Kyle.
Rochi had no problem launching a 3-pointer from 30 feet, and he made a lot of them, too. During the 2005-06 season, the Copperhead great sank 89 3-pointers. The year before he made 75.
Years later, Rochi resurfaced as an assistant coach, like his father before him, on the Anaconda bench. He had a long beard and a Rollie Fingers mustache.
For seven years, Rochi coached as an assistant in the Copperhead boys’ program. He did it because he was a Copperhead, and he wanted to help the program.
Rochi was the head coach for the last four seasons. He took over a team that just lost the great Braxton Hill to graduation, and the program was not exactly brimming with talent.
Still, the Copperheads competed every time they took the court under Coach Estes. They played with heart and they played with class. This past season, they gave the eventual Class A State champion Butte Central Maroons all they could handle.
For a while, anyway.
Under Estes, there were no disciplinary issues. Officials and opposing teams respected Rochi’s Copperheads. The program, while not a winner like in the days when Rochi played, was a one that Anaconda could be proud of.
Until last week.
Even though the school administration recommended renewing the contracts of all the varsity coaches at Anaconda High School, the school board voted 6-1 to oust Rochi Estes.
They were going to do the same thing to 1993 Anaconda graduate Andy Saltenberger, but he resigned as the head coach of the girls’ basketball program before the board members could get the satisfaction of firing him.
Like Estes, all Saltenberger did was coach his heart out to try make his alma matter the best it could be.
Maybe it was the parents crying about playing time that brought down the basketball coaches. Maybe some board members had relatives they want to give the jobs to.
We do not know because the decision to axe Rochi Estes came without discussion. Yes, read that last line again.
They fired an Estes without discussion. In Anaconda.
It would not be fair to call the Estes family “royalty” in Anaconda, but they are the closest thing to it. They are humble, kind and dedicated. They are Anaconda to the core.
When you talk about Anaconda, especially sports in Anaconda, Estes is the first name you think of. Before Kalafat. Before Matosich. Before Laslovich. Before Huot.
Even if we were talking about Rochi Smith, however, he should have never been fired, and it is hard to imagine how a coach of any name would touch that job with a mile-long pole.
The school board has made Anaconda the worst high school job in America. The board members also assumed the face of everything that is bad about high school sports.
Rochi Estes, Andy Saltenberger and their assistants remain the face of what is good.
Instead of representing the students, the school board looked out for the interest of the cowards who whisper about the coach from the comfort of the bleachers.
They greased the squeaky wheel that is the Facebook ranter. They deputized the loudmouth aunts and grandfathers.
Frankly, the Anaconda school board dropped the ball in a major way, putting entitlement and pettiness over respect and accountability.
Hanna Lux, what were you thinking?
Angela Galle? Seriously?
Gayle Venturelli? You’re kidding, right?
Keriann Orrino? What the heck?
Art Villasenor? C’mon man.
Teal Allick? Why?
Kevin Morley was the only school board member who voted to keep Estes. The others spit in the face of Anaconda karma. They might as well blow up the Smelter and burn down the Old Works while they are at it.
Estes and Saltenberger are not the only coaches to get sent packing. Their assistants are gone, too.
And, get this, the Anaconda school board fired the cheerleading coach, even after the administration recommended rehire.
Why on Earth would anybody fire a cheer coach who had no disciplinary issues? Why would you fire a cheer coach whose cheerleaders enthusiastically rooted for the Copperheads every game?
It’s not like they were chanting “two, four, six, seven?” They never held the flag upside down for the national anthem.
I have had multiple Anaconda natives tell me their hometown is not the place it used to be, and it is easy to see what they are talking about.
The Copperhead players no longer keep on pouring out of the locker room like the Fourth of July parade before football games at Mitchell Stadium.
Memorial Gym is no longer packed to the rafters for basketball games.
Anaconda went from Class AA to Class A and now to Class B. The school struggles for numbers in all of its sports, like a lot of schools around the country.
Luckily, the Smelter City has some people who will fight like heck to grab ahold of the Anaconda they know and love.
From what I can tell, the Copperheads who are left compete like Anaconda kids always did. That is because Anaconda still has men and women who bleed blue and silver.
Last week, the school board kicked a handful of them in the teeth, and it is a damn shame.
It will be a long, long time before the rest of the state gets over the shock that they actually did this to an Estes in Anaconda.
It will be even longer before the town can begin to recover from such terrible wrongdoing that goes well beyond any last name.
— Bill Foley, who is not Anaconda royalty, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 11 comments
Alice HeaneyApril 19, 2022, 8:16 am
Ted RichardsApril 19, 2022, 8:22 am
To coach today you have to be insane.REPLY
Sandra PackApril 19, 2022, 9:11 am
Thank you Mr. Foley for your aptly written sentiments. The actions of the school board members (with the exception of one) are difficult to understand, especially so since their actions were made without discussion (against the rules.) In life a person or entity’s actions can stand up to the bright light of daylight as long as they are made in good faith, are truthful and can stand the test of inquiry with nothing held back. Can the Board’s actions stand up to the scrutiny of the community?REPLY
Rae Eccleston@Sandra PackApril 19, 2022, 9:25 am
Michael J McGuireApril 19, 2022, 10:33 am
This is what the kids and parents of Anaconda have dealt with for the last 20 years. They don’t care about the students or hardworking honest people that actually care about the community. "The select few" in the "Hierarchy" of Anaconda politics and sad to say education boards choose personal selfish reasons or grudges or simply not having the right last name as reasons to promote an enviroment that is toxic to the majority as the sit on their high horses and dictate how they want things not whats best for the community!!!REPLY
Carin Sullivan@Michael J McGuireApril 19, 2022, 9:49 pm
This has gone on for decades. It’s nothing new and it doesn’t just happen in Anaconda. Just ask my family. We know all too well. So, no…it’s not some new concept of what happens between school board members, the administration, teachers and coaches.
**However, I will say I was surprised they let Rochi go. Rochi, Ron and the legacy of the Estes family is a real thing. They are definitely stellar coaches and amazing individuals.REPLY
Nancy DahoodApril 19, 2022, 2:00 pm
Absolute shame for the kids. No coaches. No gyms open. No summer programs and no explanation to Rochi or Andy or the cheerleading coach. Private meetings are a violation of the 1972 Montana constitution. Article II sections 8, 9 and 10. The right to know. The right to participate. The right to privacy. No government agency can hold behind doors meetings unless it violates the person’s private interest by having the comments public. This is not the case here Wade J Dahood specifically wrote that into the constitution for the protection of the Montana citizens and because of the actions quite similar to these by big corporations prior to the rewriting of the constitution. This school board has violated the laws of the state of Montana by having closed door discussions concerning firing of the coaches without public comment. Shame on them. All of them for their stupidity. Nancy DahoodREPLY
Lana Chevalier@Nancy DahoodApril 20, 2022, 7:54 pm
Why has this conduct been allowed to happen and continue when the law states otherwise. I think that maybe the people/parents step up to the plate and either get the OPI involved or as a last resort., sue the school board. Suing may not be something that the people of Anaconda want to do but it is the right thing to do for the students and protection for the hired teachers/coaches, etc.REPLY
Jeff Welborn@Nancy DahoodApril 23, 2022, 11:54 am
Nancy, you stole the words right out of my mouth.REPLY
Yes its tragic Anaconda treated a couple of their own in that manner. However, the real travesty is open meeting laws and the public’s right to participate has been violated. Perhaps there is a loophole here, either way, what did they have to hide? Its apparent the decision to oust had already been made. It seems as though a quorum had assembled at some point to have this hard wired. Your late husband ( God rest his soul) and his colleagues, of the ’72 Con Con got it right. Perhaps the Anaconda School Board needs a lesson in both civics, and history. Betting the True Blue & Silver Anaconda faithful will be be reminding them of their short sightedness, and dis-respect of a great set of coaches, an iconic family, the political and open meetings process , that makes Montana unique to the rest of the nation.
Sad day indeed.