By MICHAEL HEINBACH
of the Missoulian
For me, covering Missoula crosstown prep athletic competitions is usually a blast.
In general, that’s when I get to see the best of the students, when they show devout pride in their school in loudly cheering their team toward victory.
But Tuesday night at Sentinel gym, I left disheartened after witnessing an ugly display at the volleyball match between Missoula Hellgate and Missoula Sentinel.
The student sections in support of both schools were packed with kids at their most vocal, and most everyone in attendance wore pink in support of breast cancer awareness, which of course I fully endorse.
But the cheering quickly turned toward heckling the opposing student body before it got downright disgusting.
It began lightheartedly, with the Sentinel kids chanting across the court at the Hellgate section, “Let’s play football,” in a not-so-gentile reminder that the Spartans edged Hellgate 15-12 on the gridiron back on Aug. 31.
But things only went south from there and soon the taunting went well past an R rating. Somehow it slipped by Sentinel administrators in attendance, but the Spartan section started a chant that I won’t repeat, but had to do with their side having more sex than the opposition.
Much to my surprise, the Hellgate section responded with a chant that referred to the Sentinel kids with a homosexual slur, which in turn forced Hellgate activities director Lynn Farmer to remove her school’s entire student section aside from the girls who played for the Knights’ junior varsity, sophomore and freshman volleyball teams.
As a result, the Hellgate cheerleaders were left to cheer to a small handful of kids and several Sentinel boys went charging outside to the parking lot, presumably to confront the Hellgate kids who were forced to leave.
This is not what prep athletics are all about. First of all, never ever under any circumstances is it acceptable to use a slur, especially when it deals with sexual preference.
Events like a crosstown volleyball match exist to promote unity among fellow students, united in support of their team. And sporting events are certainly not a forum to belittle the opposition on the field of play or in the stands.
I had hoped that this generation if kids, raised in the most politically-correct era in history, understood that.
I know how rivalries can get heated and that things can be said before rational thought stifles the impulse. But please, in the future, use these games to boost your own school spirit. Don’t tarnish the efforts of the athletes on the field of play by making it a negative experience for all involved.
As a journalist, I know the power a few simple words can have. Please don’t abuse that power, keep it clean and try your best to keep it positive.
By MICHAEL HEINBACH
of the Missoulian
The glory and the headlines are generally reserved for successful teams and standout players in the Missoulian sports section.
And though the scoreline and the statistics sheet didn’t exactly paint the most glorious of pictures, I was thrilled to witness Missoula Hellgate’s first football victory of the season last Friday at Missoula County Stadium.
Yes, it was a 6-0 victory over a one-win Great Falls High team playing without its opening-day starting quarterback in a contest that saw its lone score come late in the fourth quarter. But a win is a win and it wasn’t a stretch to regard it as well-deserved Hellgate victory.
Think of it this way: Though success on the gridiron has been a struggle at Hellgate in recent memory, don’t believe for a minute the Knights and their coaching staff aren’t working just as hard or harder than every other high school football team in the state.
Those who’ve played for a team like the Knights know how difficult it can be to be at your best for practice when your team seems overmatched every week. The bumps and bruises that come with a high school football season hurt just a little more and the load in the weight room seems twice as heavy when you start the season 0-6.
But that hasn’t stopped the Hellgate football team from repeatedly putting its best foot forward. Each week when I talk to Hellgate head coach R.L. Boyles in preparation for the week’s contest, he’s quick to point out how his Knights get a little better every week, how hard they practice and how the effort is always there.
That’s why it was so much fun watching Hellgate as it refused to fold up shop when starting running back Dain Cowan was relegated to the bench in the second quarter with a shoulder injury against the Bison.
In his place stepped sophomore John Dalpiaz, who not only scored the only points of the game on a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 5:48 to play, he iced the victory when he ripped off a 30-yard scamper in the waning moments which allowed the Knights to run out the clock.
When it was over, I spoke with Dalpiaz and senior quarterback Luke Bewley, both of whom were overjoyed with the result. Both credited the Hellgate offensive line and the entire defense for the win, rather than pounding their chests and trying to get their own names in the paper.
In addition, Boyles couldn’t stop talking about how happy he was for the kids on the team, how bad they wanted that win and how much they deserved it.
I ran into Boyles on the street Monday morning and without prompting, he stopped me, took the time to thank me for keeping things as positive as possible in the newspaper and for supporting the hard work his kids have put in.
His simple gesture of taking two minutes to let me know he appreciates what I do made my day.
It reminded me that fighting through struggles the way the Hellgate football team has all season will only make the young men on the team stronger in the long run.
There won’t be new hardware in the school’s trophy case when the football season ends. But as a group, the Knights will have accomplished a feat much greater than anything that can be found by in looking at the Class AA standings.
Though it might not be as immediately rewarding as reaching the playoffs, the Knights are putting a truly noble effort into playing for nothing more than the pride that results in doing their best every week, regardless of what the scoreboard says.
And though it rarely ever is, that kind of determination should always be applauded.