Havre Daily News
Keith Donovan has been to almost all of the District 9C basketball tournaments. Donovan played basketball in high school and said he still runs into his past teammates at the annual tournament.
He played for Kremlin about 60 years ago. The 75-year-old farmer lives 30 miles north of Kremlin and has lived on the Hi-Line all of his life.
“As long as I can still walk and drive, we'll be here,” the North Star fan said about himself and his wife, Marlene.
Havre Athletic Committee member Milton Madsen agreed. The committee provides support for the tournament.
“As long as I am able, I will be out here. Sign me up for any and all available,” the 67-year-old said as he checked people's tickets for the reserved seats. “I'm getting a little older and it got to be long hours but I wouldn't trade it for anything.”
“I couldn't even tell you how many of these tournaments I have been to. Of course, I know everyone and they know me,” he added.
The 2006 District 9C basketball tournament includes seven high school boys teams and seven high school girls teams vying for the district championships. It began Tuesday and ends with the championship games on Saturday night.
For many the tournament is more than basketball. It is a social event for all ages from up and down the Hi-Line. Of course, everyone has their picks and many wear their team's colors or their favorite athlete's picture pinned to their heavy winter coats, made necessary by the sub-zero temperatures outside.
Over the years, Madsen said, he has watched players and then watched their children play for the same team years later.
The volunteer said he is sometimes more entertained by the antics of Big Sandy coach Roy Lackner than by the action on the court. Lackner is known for being quite animated during games.
“Sometimes people ask ‘Milton, aren't you going to take my ticket?' I tell them ‘Wait, I'm watching the Roy Lacknershow,'” Madsen said. “One of my favorite things to do is to watch him get heated up.”
He added that Lackner's hollering has toned down from what it used to be.
“I'm very calm. I just sit and watch,” Lackner said with a wink.
He said he can't call a timeout every time he wants so he gets his message through vocally. The comments hollered are never derogatory, he added.
“They wouldn't go and work their butts off if it bothered them,” Lackner said after his girls team defeated Chinook Thursday afternoon. “I am trying to calm down. That's one of my goals every year, but it's hard to be different than I am.”
Beeters coach Warren Lybeck said he was impressed by the crowd at his team's first 9C tournament. The team was previously in Class B.
“Class C is louder, which is always a good thing,” he said.
The comments of Lybeck's son, Chinook player Jordon, echoed those of his father.
“The crowd is loud and supportive. Pretty much the whole town came to the games, both kids and adults,” the 16-year-old said.
The roar of the crowd is not a good thing for Emery Bacon of Box Elder, the official score keeper of the tournament. Bacon said the increased decibels make it hard for him to do his job because he can't hear the referee.
“As the game wears on, the crowd seems to get louder and louder,” he said.
Games started on Tuesday afternoon with the gym at 80 percent capacity, said Rocky Boy High School principal Voyd St. Pierre, the tournament's manager. Every parking spot was occupied at Havre High School, and some were a bit creative in what they thought was a suitable spot.
Richard Sangrey, chief of staff for the Chippewa Cree Tribe, was there to watch the Rocky Boy Stars and Box Elder Bears on Tuesday. He said tribal offices were down to a “skeleton staff” so workers could attend the tournament.
“Last one out turns the light out,” Sangrey said.
He said he was rooting for both teams because “they're both our kids.”
“It's a community activity,” he added.
Sangrey and his brother, Mike, both played for Box Elder years apart from each other. Mike Sangrey was there to watch his son, Mike Jr., play for the Bears, as well as other relatives who play for the teams. “Native American teams fill up the gym quickly,” St. Pierre said.
About 650 reserved-seat tickets for all the games were purchased for $32 apiece, he said. The gym holds 1,802 fans. Single game ticket prices range from $3 to $6.
The funds made from ticket sales will be used for expenses like the payment of referees, custodial staff and timekeeper, mileage for the teams and a $15 per diem per player, he said. St. Pierre said in every year of his 11 years as tournament manager a balance was left over once expenses were paid. That money will be split evenly among the teams.
“Friday night, I imagine we'll have a line elbow to elbow” for tickets, he said.
St. Pierre said he doesn't think the frigid weather will negatively affect attendance.
“There are close-knit families and communities that will do whatever it takes to support the teams,” he added.
Edie Jones, mother of Turner player Colin Jones, agreed.
“If you're a good fan, you don't let the weather affect you,” said Jones, who has been attending the tournament for about 18 years.
Jean Willis didn't let weather or distance deter her from watching the games. Willis and her husband drove 11 hours from northern Utah to Havre to watch their grandson, Justin Willis, play for Big Sandy. They also attended last year's tournament.
“There's a little more excitement this year. I like the atmosphere,” Willis said. “It reminds me of my high school. I went to a small high school years ago.”
Willis said they plan their trips around sports events. She has another grandson who plays basketball in North Carolina and plans to travel to see his games too.
In a different type of court action, Gildford resident Kathy Preeshl was presented a handmade quilt for her 25 years as athletic director for KG Public Schools. Preeshl retired from that position after KG and Blue Sky consolidated and is now the business manager for North Star Public Schools.
She said she had no idea that she would be receiving anything at the tournament.
“It's very beautiful. Whoever made it did a wonderful job,” Preeshl said. “I am very honored.”
The quilt, which has patches in the old KG colors, was made by Rocky Boy's Bernice McGuire. Preeshl said she will probably use the quilt as a wall hanging.
Although Preeshl has only missed one tournament since she started as athletic director in 1981, this year's tournament was the first at which she was able to just sit and watch.
“Our community, we're down here all day long,” she said.
The influx of Hi-Line fans and players also has some impact on the local economy.
Taco John's manager Craig Greenwood said the restaurant in the Holiday Village Shopping Center has had increased sales because of the busloads of players and traveling fans.
Bob Evans of Master Sports said he has noticed a large impact to the store's sales from the tournament.
“It's always great to have all the teams in town,” Evans said.
Local motels have been affected by the tournament as well.
Matt Hencz, manager of the Super 8 Motel in Havre, said a few rooms are left for tonight and Saturday night. He anticipated selling out over the weekend because of the tournament.