George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re from Havre, or anywhere on the Hi-Line, then the last name Kato is easily recognizable, especially when it is mentioned along with words like sports or Havre Blue Ponies. And one of the Kato’s that got the original ball rolling 60 years ago is former Havre High standout Mark Kato. A graduate of the HHS class of 1947, Kato is being honored in Havre this week as he goes into the Montana High School Association Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2007. “It’s a really great honor,” Kato said. There are a lot of great people in it, and its a real honor for me to be included.” Getting into the MHSA Hall of Fame is no small feat. But when you look at Kato’s sports legacy in Havre, it’s no surprise that he will now be a part of Montana’s elite when it comes to high school athletics. Kato was a three-year varsity player for the Havre High football team in the 1940s and was also an outstanding basketball player. But for all his great achievements on the field and in the gym, Kato is best remembered across the state for being one of the starting quarterback’s in the first-ever Montana East-West Shrine Game held in Great Falls in the summer of 1947. Kato started and shined for the East team which lost 33-13. “Being selected to the shrine game was a big honor,” he said. “But what was really special was that all of the players on the team nominated me as a one of the captains. That meant a lot to me.” And again, being nominated as a captain in the shrine game was no surprise either. Kato was, and still is known as a natural leader. On the field, Kato earned All-State honors in his senior season, and he helped guide what was considered an undersized HHS team to much success on the field. But off of it is where Kato made a huge difference. Not only was he considered a team leader and a consummate team player, he was known as another coach as well. At the time, HHS had only a head coach and a junior varsity coach. So Kato became an extension of that coaching staff. And just playing and being with his teammates is what Kato remembers most. “I got to play with a great bunch of guys,” he said. “That is what I remember most. At the time, it was just a lot of fun playing sports and and it was special to play here in Havre.” Of course Kato had more great moments on the gridiron than can be listed. But he did mention Havre’s 32-0 shutout of Bozeman as one that stands out. “I think I blocked two punts and threw a touchdown pass,” he said. “That was a pretty good game. But they were all good games and fun to play in.” In fact, Kato figured into every point HHS scored that night against Bozeman, including a shifty 15-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that, according to witnesses, would have made Reggie Bush proud. In the winter, Kato turned his attention to basketball where he was equally as good. At the time, Havre competed in the “Big 16”, and Kato helped lead the Ponies to a fourth-place finish at state. He was honored by being selected to the prestigious All- State team at guard. But football was where Kato’s passion seemed to be, and he continued his quarterbacking career with the 9th Army Team at Fort Lewis, Wash. Kato started at quarterback for Fort Lewis where he played for head coach Tom Lombardo who was part of the great Army teams that featured football legends Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. While there, Lombardo made sure Kato had a college scholarship offer to continue his playing days, but injury kept him from ever doing so. Still, Kato’s skill and his achievements on the field and on the hardwood cemented a great legacy in Havre. But what he seems most proud of is the legacy he and his wife Johanna helped continue at HHS. That, and the fact that he is just proud that he is a lifelong Havre Blue Pony. Kato has seven children and every one of them competed in athletics at HHS. His oldest son Mark (49) graduated from HHS in 1975, playing basketball and football for the Ponies. Rick (48) played two years of football for HHS and graduated in 1976, while Jeff (47) led the Blue Ponies to the Class AA state championship game against Butte in 1977. Jeff, like his dad, played quarterback for the Blue Ponies. Kato’s youngest son Jim (36) also played two years at quarterback for the Blue Ponies and graduated in 1989. Jim also played basketball for HHS and is widely considered one of the finest golfers Havre has ever produced. Kato also has three daughters who all competed in sports at Havre High. Shari Baltrusch (44) helped the HHS girls to the 1978 state championship and graduated in 1980. Lisa Darlington (43) and his youngest daughter Patti also excelled in basketball for Havre. Lisa graduated in 1982 and Patti in 1987. “What is special for me about playing for Havre High and going into the hall of fame here in Havre is that all of my family has played here,” Kato said. “All my brothers played here. I got to watch all seven of my children play here and two of my grandchildren have played here. And getting this honor is something that I am very, very proud of. I am really glad it’s going to happen here in Havre and I owe a lot of thanks to Wells Lamey for nominating me. This is just a really great honor.” So while Mark Kato’s sports’ legacy has lived well past the 1940s thanks to the success of his kids and his grandkids both in sports and in life, now, his own sports legacy will never be forgotten. Starting Saturday night, Kato will be a permanent part of Montana High School sports lore. And for a great athlete like him, it’s as it should be.