Prep Sports Showcase
By Kim Staudinger
Editor's note: This is the first part in a new weekly feature series focusing on teams from the Hi-Line.
The Harlem Wildcats basketball team has always known it was talented and this year it has everyone in the state believing it.
The Wildcats have only suffered two losses this season and are using their team motto, "Gotta believe" to guide them through the remainder of the year, a path they hope leads to the state tournament.
"We'd like to be state champs," junior forward Chris Cole said.
And as Chris talked about a state title, three other teammates, Colby Fetter and cousins Adam Bigby and Kevin Bigby, all smiled as Kevin added, "The first one in school history."
While success has always been at the hearts of the Wildcat team, Chris, Colby, Adam and Kevin all agreed that their new coach is the real reason why this team has had such a great turnaround.
"We always had the talent," Adam said. "We just never had the coach until last year."
The new coach, Cal Bigby, is Adam's uncle and Kevin's dad. But don't let that fool you. Playing coach and being dad are two different roles for Cal.
Adam said one contrast in coaching styles of the past is discipline, something the Wildcats have never had in abundance. He said his "Uncle Cal" employs discipline as his primary motivational tool.
"He has no problem benching someone," Colby said.
Adam and Colby chimed in, "He plays guys who are ready to play and who want to play."
Some examples of the tough discipline Cal uses in practice: Running for hanging on the rim after a dunk, arguing or for any other infractions. The usual punishment is two miles per offense, but arguing brings a penalty of four miles and the tally cumulative.
Playing for one's parents is never an easy task, but Kevin said it's something he enjoys even though his dad expects more out of him.
"I think it's kind of cool," he said. "He expects more from me and pushes me harder, which makes me a better player."
Adam agreed and said that having his uncle as his basketball coach "makes it a little harder."
Cal was the first person to introduce organized basketball to nearly every member of his team this year. Most of the players started playing the sport in the third grade, but Cal began coaching them a few years later by taking the boys to compete in local tournaments and camps.
Playing about 10 games per season, in tournaments like the Big Sky State Games, the boys laid the groundwork for success this season. When Kevin and Adam were in seventh grade, their team went 12-2. The following year, in eighth grade, they improved to 15-1. Colby and Chris played for teams that compiled 14-1 records during their seventh and eighth grade years. Playing together for as many years these boys have has created a unity that goes beyond friendship.
"When we're out on the court, we are a family," Colby said. "We may have a few arguments, but we're always together as a team. It's all about teamwork."
The boys said they go to tournaments and camps every year now and constantly play basketball in the summer. They've played teams from throughout Montana, parts of Idaho and even one from Canada, among others. Since Harlem is a Class B school, the Wildcats don't get to play against teams like the Class AA CMR, but playing in the state games last summer allowed them to do so. Harlem played the two-time defending state champion Rustlers close, losing by four in overtime.
But just because they don't get to face one of the toughest teams in the state doesn't mean the Wildcats aren't up to the challenge. Last season, Harlem faced the defending Class A champions in Browning and split two games. Playing at Browning, Harlem lost by eight points, but handily defeated them in their second matchup.
Another highlight of their high school careers came when Harlem beat Heart Butte by nine. The Wildcats met up with the Warriors during the first year of their state title run and played against superstar, Mike Chavez. Chavez, who signed to play with the University of Montana earlier this fall, has brought attention to the possibility of many other Native Americans receiving athletic scholarships.
Scouts have already visited Harlem on many occasions, but Adam and Kevin, both seniors, said they don't let that get to them. Adam admitted to being more of a football player than a basketball player, but both he and Kevin said they're not in it for the possibility of a scholarship. And, while the scouts come to watch the Wildcats play, only the coaches will know about it. The players find out after the game, taking any potential pressure off their shoulders.
But for now, the focus remains on bringing home Harlem's first state championship trophy.
"The main thing is to win and have fun," Colby said. "We expect a state championship. I think we owe it to ourselves. We've experienced losses when we haven't been ready to play. We try to prepare ourselves for every game like it's our last."
Look for next next week's feature on the Chinook wrestling team.