By Tiffany L. Rehbein
A touch of class.
Those words are painted across the white cinder blocks in my high school gymnasium. You might have heard of it Richey High School. It is the palace of the Lady Royals.
The Royals were inked into the Montana athletic history books Saturday night. The girls' programs in basketball and volleyball claimed State Class C titles in the same year. No other girls' programs in Class C have ever accomplished that goal.
And they not only captured the crowns. They boasted perfect records in both seasons.
In December, after the Royals defeated Reed Point in the championship game held at the Adams Events Center in Missoula, they were 27-0. The year before, they finished the season 26-1, losing only in the state championship game to Box Elder.
The volleyball team finished the season 40-0.
Sometimes it seems teams get so used to winning, they forget the bitterness of a loss. State berths become expected rather than desired. Wins become just another finish, not something savored.
I had the opportunity to witness a perfect ending, capping off a perfect season. I never realized the sweetness of a moment until I saw my hometown team holding the No. 1 trophy.
It was almost as if a little of my sweat and integrity had finally paid off more than seven years later.
That is the beauty of high school athletics, especially at the Class C level. You cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. Coaches use what they are given each athlete plays a role from the water boy through the bench and onto the court.
State championships in Richey are desired. Maybe that is why perfection is so rare; because it takes a special combination that could be never again matched in history.
There are 24 schools represented in the Class A, 45 teams in Class B, and 85 schools making up 75 teams in the Class C.
The odds of making it through a district tournament, divisional tournament, and to the No. 1 spot at state get slimmer and dimmer the farther a team advances.
To do it in two sports during the same season with virtually the same athletes is phenomenal.
When half the town of Richey attends a state tournament game, 150 people are in attendance. That crowd consists of parents and fans and alumni, alike.
After the Royals won, when they posed with their trophy near center court, the crowd cheered, "Royals, Royals, how do you feel?"
They said they felt good.
The team retorted, "Fans, fans, how do you feel?"
The fans felt good, too.
That state trophy represents more than the players and the coaches. It represents the parents, the fans, the former students and students and athletes to come.
We have all walked those hallways or, in Richey's case, the one hallway that runs through the high school. We have all had most of those teachers. I once wore that royal blue and white uniform, with that certain number on the back. I was once a Royal.
Those fans once cheered for me.
The taste of that utmost victory lingers on more than the hearts of those competitors. And it is more than the names emblazoned on the trophy.
I never could have imagined a state championship would encompass so much more than putting together good enough games and matches to beat the next opponent.
It encompasses a body of losses from years before to hone a program into perfection.
Perfection rarely comes in any form. At a Class C school, the wheat cannot be separated, but maybe that lends that slight touch of class that pushes the winners over the top.