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150 years of Helena sports: The big four

From the Miners, madams and murders: A series on Helena's colorful past series
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Editor's note: As part of the celebration of Helena's 150th birthday, this IR feature takes a historical glance at the local sports scene since the town was founded in 1864. Here is brief recap of the four major sports -- football, basketball, track and baseball -- over the past century and a half.

Football

Helena High fielded the first local football team in 1894. Helena captured two state championships, in 1902 and 1932, and has finished runner-up five times.

Six former Bengals have gone on to play in a major professional football league, including John Dolan, Earle Parsons, Bob McCullough, Pat Donovan, Delmar Jones and Dan Carpenter.

Donovan, arguably Helena’s greatest all-time athlete, was a four-time All-Pro tackle for Dallas, and a member of the 1977 Cowboys Super Bowl championship.

HHS gridders earning the Gatorade Player of the Year were Andy Petek and Matt Hustad.

Helena Cathedral High/Helena Central High fielded grid teams from 1954-68.

In 1958, the Greenies went 7-2, while tying for the Class B Southwest Conference title. The 1968 Class A Cougars finished second to Hamilton in the conference with a 7-1 mark.

Cathedral lineman Rich Ronan (1961-62) went on to play professionally with the Norfolk Neptunes of the Continental Football League.

Capital High, which was founded in 1973, has become one of Montana’s most dominating football programs. The Bruins won their first state championship in 1978, and since then have captured 10 more titles, the latest coming in 2011. The Bruins hold AA records of 27 consecutive victories, and five straight chipper appearances (2004-08).

Two Capital gridders have experienced NFL tryouts, including Jason Crebo and Greg Carothers.

Bruins earning Gatorade Player of the Year were Jeff Tuss, Crebo, Kyle Samson, Matt Miller, Caleb Kidder and Gunnar Brekke.

And three other CHS alums have attained coaching positions in the NFL: Bobby Petrino, Paul Petrino and Tom McMahon.    

Two former Bruins recently made history, when MSU’s Brad Daly became the first Helenan to earn the Buck Buchanan Award, and Matt Miller broke Boise State’s receiving record.

Carroll College, under coach Mike Van Diest, is a six-time NAIA national champion.  

Originally known as Mount Saint Charles College, Carroll has amassed 44 conference championships -- 15 Montana College Conference titles and 29 Frontier crowns.

The Saints have qualified for the national playoffs 22 times, including nine under coach Bob Petrino (1971-97) and 13 under Van Diest (1998-present).

Since Guido Bugni became the Hilltop’s first All-American in 1953, nearly three dozen other Saints have attained similar status.

In 1975, former CC running back Dan Rambo played in a preseason game for the Denver Broncos.

Casey FitzSimmons was the first Saint to make the NFL, as a tight end for the Detroit Lions from 2003-09. And Carroll also boasted a two-time NAIA Player of the Year, in the person of quarterback (and CHS alum) Ty Emmert, in 2003 and 2005.

Basketball

The sport of basketball was initially played at Helena High during the 1901-02 school year, with the “Tigers” fielding both a boys and girls team.

In fact, the school’s first two state hoops championships were captured by the girls, in 1907-08.

The game was played half court since the girls were considered “too delicate to run” and eventually became an intramural sport.

But after Title IX came into effect in 1973, the HHS girls won four more titles, in 1984, 1990-91 and 1997.

In 1985, 6-foot-2 post Kari Kockler established the school’s season scoring records, of 474 points and 20.1 points per game average.

Amy Brooks (2000-03) is the program’s career scoring and rebound leader, with 1,099 points and 614 rebounds.

Since Capital High opened its doors in 1973, the Bruin girls have placed runner-up twice, in 2006 and 2013.

The program’s first super star was Linda Raunig (1973-75), amassing 1,176 career points in three years. Raunig went on to establish 16 records at the University of Denver, before playing with the Phoenix Flames of the Ladies Professional Basketball Association.

Another CHS all-time great, Kelsi Brekke (2006-09), set at least eight scoring records, including game points (41) and season average (19.2 ppg).

On the boys side, the initial sanctioned state hoops tournament took place in 1911. The Helena Bengals were the state’s first dynasty, winning three successive championships from 1914-16, and a fourth crown in 1919.

HHS would go on to capture a total of 10 titles, winning crowns in 1945, 1953-55, 1971 and 1991.

Ray Howard, the 6-foot-6 post for the 1953 “Towering Tigers,” established season records of 657 points and averaging 23.1 ppg.

He went on to star for the University of Montana, where he became the only Capital City native offered a NBA contract (Minneapolis Lakers) before sustaining two career-ending knee injuries.

In 1997, Justin Brown rewrote HHS’ record book, setting no less than 15 new marks, including 1,235 career points and a 24.48 ppg season average.

Several other standout Bengals include Dick Carstensen, Russ Sheriff, Kirk Johnson, Pat Donovan, Randy Rucker, Brian Donovan, Chris Spoja and Danny Sprinkle.

Helena Cathedral High/Helena Central High fielded hoops teams from the 1940s through 1969.

The 1951 Greenies placed as Class C runners-up, losing the championship game to Poplar 43-42 on a desperation shot by the Indians at the buzzer.

Two of the school’s better players were Pat Kelly and Walt Romasko. In 1968, the Class A Cougars upset Helena High in the first crosstown match-up, 79-68 in overtime.

Capital’s boys teams have won two state titles, in 1983 and 2014.

From 1974-76, Mike Manion set the brown-and-gold career scoring record of 1,070 points, which held for 34 years, until being surpassed by Matt Miller in 2010.

But Manion still holds the season average mark of 21.7 ppg.

Several other Bruin standouts include Bobby Petrino, John Harrington, Kevin Van Nice and Ty Ridgeway.

Carroll men's hoopsters have captured 11 MCC championships and 14 Frontier titles.

The Saints have made nine appearances in the NAIA National Finals Tournament, while qualifying for the NAIA Final Four in 2005.

The program’s all-time leading scorer is Bill Pilgeram, who amassed 2,515 points from 1989-92, averaging 24.9 ppg.

On the women's side, Carroll has garnered four Frontier titles, while qualifying for nationals in 2006, 2008 (Elite Eight) and 2013.

The Saints career scoring leader is Jolene Fuzesy, compiling 2,062 points from 2004-07. She also holds college basketball’s all-time 3-point accuracy record of 51.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Track and field

Helena High’s first track and field team was organized in 1904. The Bengals have captured six state championships, in 1952, 1960, 1991-92, 1997 and 2005.

HHS’ most prolific scorer at the state meets was sprinter/hurdler Nate Boyd.

From 1996-99, Boyd’s records include career (74) and meet points (39½), career (12, tie with Earle Parsons) and meet medals (six), and career championships (five individual and two relays).

Parsons (1938-40) is a close second, gathering eight state championships (six individual), in the sprints and broad jump.

Several other outstanding performers include Richard Krum, Joe Brennan, Pat Donovan, Darin Zinnecker, Tyler Peterson and Mike Ferriter.

Helena pole vaulter Todd Foster has owned the all-class record of 15-feet-9 since 1988.

The Capital boys have garnered three AA crowns, in 1998-99 and 2004.

Greg Carothers holds the school marks at state meets for career points (62), while Jake Eldridge has the most state medals (14). A few other standouts include Shawn Holland, Kevin Johnson and Kevin Van Nice.

The Bengal girls tracksters captured their lone state championship in 2000.

The program’s all-time leading scorer at state is Heather Lewis. From 1989-92, she amassed 94 points, 15 medals and eight championships (four individual, four relays).

Pole vaulter Shannon Agee won four state crowns from 1995-98 and holds the all-class record of 13-0; while Kari Shepherd the all-class high jump mark of 5-9½ in 1983.

Capital’s girls have garnered two state titles, in 1996-97.

The Bruin girls trackster with the most state championships is Emily Nay (1992-95), who achieved a rare quadruple double, winning both the 1,600 and 3,200 all four years.

Other top Bruin performers include Carrie Damschen, Suzanne Krings, Laura Bennett and Melanie Hull.

Meg Jones claimed four state championships in 1982-83 and still owns the AA discus mark of 149-8.

Helena Cathedral/Helena Central High did not have a state track champion, although several guys placed in the top three.

Carroll College sported track teams from the 1937 until 1970, capturing two MCC team titles. The Saints produced 13 individual conference champions, including Helenans Mac Grimes, Dave Roberts and Mick Robinson.

Track and field was reinstated at the college in 2011, and, since then, the Saints have crowned three national titlists: Easton Padden (pole vault), Kathleen Mulligan (triple jump) and Rhianna Grossman (3,000 run).

Baseball

The game of baseball was first played in Helena in the 1880s, when the ball field was located at Central Park, present site of Green Meadow Country Club.

In 1902, the Helena Senators won the Pacific Northwest League, which was comparable to today’s AA minors.

Several local guys that played in big league farm systems early on were East Helena’s one-armed Kes Rigler, Kirby Hoon and Bobby Kelley.

The E.H. Smelterites won the 1936 State championship, and Copper League titles in 1956 and 1959. The Helena Wranglers captured the 1958 crown.

One of the more notable Smelterites was future country-and-western singer Charley Pride.

American Legion baseball has been played annually since 1932, which was also the same year the park was built, now called Kindrick Legion Field.

The Helena Senators have won four Class AA state championships, in 1968, and 2001-03.

East Helena’s Herb Plews is the only local ball player to make the major leagues, diamonding for the Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox from 1956-59.

At least seven other locals have played minor league ball, including Bob Lightbody, Dick Muffick, Terry Screnar, Doug Anders, Bob Winfield, Jeff Tuss and Steve Bennett.

Minor League baseball returned to Helena for the first time in 64 years, with the forming of the 1978 Class A Helena Phillies. Since then, local teams capturing Pioneer League titles were the Gold Sox (1984), and Brewers (1995-96, 2010).

Two Helenans have umpired in the Pioneer League; Jim Knight and his son, Brian. Brian Knight is currently working his fourth full-time season as a MLB umpire.

Curt Synness can be reached at curt52s@bresnan.net.

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