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George Ferguson Column: Our sports made a really bad winter much easier to take

From the Fringe...


March 29, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High's Martin Wilkie won a third straight Class A state championship back in February. That was one of the many great moments during the Hi-Line's winter sports season, and, with how exciting local sports were this winter, it made the harsh, record-setting winter in our area a little better.

It's ironic that, as I sit down to write this column, it's snowing outside. But, the fact is, April is almost here, and therefore it's time to close the book on another season of winter sports on the Hi-Line.

And it goes without saying, it was an exciting one. The sports that is, not the winter itself.

Yes, while the snow was the biggest story on the Hi-Line this winter, the local athletes gave us a ray of sunshine through what were some of the darkest days in a long, long time.

And the brightest days were right at the end.

Just as winter was trying to give way to spring, the Hi-Line experienced a magical finish. On the same night, and just 145 miles apart, the Havre High and Box Elder girls basketball teams were making history almost simultaneously.

Havre finished off a perfect 24-0 season with a Class A state championship against Hardin in Great Falls, while, just minutes earlier, down the road in Butte, the Box Elder Bears captured their first state title in 20 years, defeating Winnett-Grass Range in the Class C championship game.

Indeed, it was one of the biggest nights in Hi-Line basketball in nearly a decade. In fact, the last time two area teams won the state title on the same night was back in March of 2010, when Rocky Boy won the Class B chipper in Great Falls, and the Big Sandy boys did the same at the Class C state tournament in Billings.

No doubt, the dual championships was special, and it couldn't have happened to better kids, better coaches and better communities. That's what makes what happened earlier this month so special. The Box Elder girls, the Havre girls, coaches Dustin Kraske and Joel Rosette, and the towns that support them, they're all special. Great players, great students-athletes, great schools, great fans. Simply put, March 10 was a night no one is going to forget around these parts for a long time.

And for reasons more good than bad, this is a winter none of us are going to forget either.

The Havre High and Northern wrestling teams brought us plenty of thrills, even on some dark, cold and chilly nights. The Blue Ponies didn't quite win the Class A title this year, but it didn't mean they weren't great. Yes, legendary head coach Scott Filius' last season at the helm of Havre's incredible program was no less special, no matter what the final points tally was at the state tournament. Havre was again this year, has been for a long time, and will continue to be, one of the greatest wrestling programs Montana has ever seen.

Northern also treated us to a very special wrestling season - especially the end. The Lights, of head coach Tyson Thivierge caught fire in February, and eventually rolled their way to a trophy at the NAIA national tournament the first weekend of March. And the Lights did it without a single senior in its lineup, which means, things are only going to get even better from here.

I've said it many times, and I'll say it again, if you're a fan of wrestling, there really isn't any better place to live than right here. We're very lucky in that regard.

And we're lucky to have the winter sports we have.

Northern basketball was exciting. The Lights and Skylights always give us thrills, and the Armory Gymnasium is always rocking, and this winter was no different. We also got treated to seeing one of the best individual swimmers Havre High has ever had, in senior Amelia Miller.

Back on the hardwood, we got to see so many special moments, even before the state championship night of March 10.

Isaac Bell's 51 points for Chinook was a night to remember, as was the night the Harlem girls knocked off No. 1-ranked Poplar. The 9C tourney was full of thrills, especially the Turner girl's run to not only a third-place finish, but a spot in the Northern C - something that hadn't happened in more than two decades. The finish to the 9C tourney was also dramatic, with Fort Benton's Aspen Giese hitting a game-winning shot in overtime in the girls championship game against Box Elder. Then, a week later, we got to see the Bears become the team that finally knocked Belt off at the Northern C.

And the hits kept on coming. Rocky Boy made history with the boys and girls making the Class B state tournament for the first time together. The Morning Stars also won the District 1B and Northern B championships for the first time, while the Stars battled their way to a third-place finish at state, and those will go down as three of the many great moments this winter produced.

And on and on we went. The Havre Ice Hawks program produced great results throughout this season, and the Havre Wrestling Club did the same.

Yes, it was a great winter in sports on the Hi-Line, and one that led to that magical night when Havre and Box Elder stood tall, hoisting state championship trophies. With all of the special moments we saw this winter, the ending was downright perfect.

So, while there's no question, this winter was a hard one. It was record-setting, and it wreaked havoc, with road closures, canceled and postponed games, and many other difficulties, both in life and sports, thanks to those great sports we have around these parts, in the end, it wasn't that bad after all.

Thanks to hundreds of great student-athletes, great coaches, great schools, and communities, the referees, the athletic directors and bus drivers, and to everyone else who had anything to do with the winter sports season, you made this record-breaking and horrible winter of 2018 a little easier for all of us. Thank you all for making this dark winter, a lot brighter.


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