February madness: Tournaments go way back in MC ’

Amorette Allison

History Columnist

There aren’t many signs of spring this year but one is dependable — basketball tournaments in Miles City. And how long have the basketball tournaments been coming back to Miles City in February?

More than a century.

I came across an article in the Saturday, Feb. 23, 1918 edition of the Miles City Daily Star entitled “Basketball Tourney Comes to Miles City.”

Things were a little more informal than classes by school size and districts and divisionals. To quote from the article: “The Eastern Montana basketball tournament will be held in Miles City Feb. 28 and March 1. The following schools will enter teams: Wibaux, Glendive, Terry, Forsyth and Miles City. There has been a good deal of controversy as to whether a tournament would be held this year but this morning, Coach Sheldon of the Custer County High School called the schools mentioned above and it was decided to hold the tournament.”

So, last minute decision, to say the least, followed by a subhead. “Extemporaneous Speaking.”

“Each of the above schools will enter the extemporaneous speaking contest to be held in the high school auditorium Thursday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 o’clock.”

Because the auditorium was in use on Thursday, basketball would be played in the gymnasium on Thursday, then the auditorium on Friday and Saturday. This sounds odd but the old high school on Leighton Boulevard was odd. The gymnasium was on the top floor of the building, an attic level with sloping walls. The auditorium was a big empty room on the second floor so it was a better basketball court than the gym.

The article explained: “The purpose of this tournament is to determine who will represent this district at the state meet in basketball and extemporaneous speaking.”

The tournament would be supervised by “an official sent from the State Agricultural College from Bozeman.”

So, a basketball and speech meet supervised by someone from the Agricultural College. Sounds slightly different than today’s tournaments.

The paper was enthusiastic, though, saying “The tournament will give the people of Miles City a chance to see some fast basketball.”

No mention of whether the people of Miles City were looking forward to the extemporaneous speeches.

In 1943, Glenn Denton was the sports reporter and on Sunday, Jan. 31, his sports in the Daily Star mentioned “President Matt Himsl and Secretary Boyd Baldwin are busy getting everything set for the District Four affair all arranged for the same week here at Miles City. Latest word from Secretary Baldwin is that it now seems likely that 13 or 14 teams will be here for the contests. The entire arrangements are being made without a meeting, which of course makes quite a task for the officials.”

On Friday, Feb. 12: “The drawings for the annual District Four basketball tournament to be held in Miles City . . .were made yesterday. Of the 15 teams in the district, 13 will be at the tourney.”

This was a change because in past year, the tournament had been limited to eight teams, except when 10 attended in 1942. Denton explained: “With many teams not able to play regular games due to conditions, the decision was made to allow all teams to enter and to pair them by lot, and not take into consideration their seasons record.

The team list is not what we see today. Mildred, Circle and Broadus drew byes for the first round. The games that were played included Jordan against Cohagen; Ismay against Ekalaka; Sacred Heart against Ollie, Wibaux against Terry and Baker against Plevna.

I know where Mildred was. My great aunt taught school there. But I have to admit, Ollie is a puzzler.

Circle defeated Wibaux 43-21 and the Sacred Heart Shamrocks took third, defeating Baker 28-27.

There were no speech competitions.

Competing in the 4C in 1968 were Jordan, Wibaux, Broadus, Terry, Sacred Heart, Pine Hills, Ekalaka and Plevna. The Custer County High School gymnasium had been constructed in 1964 to accommodate the big turnouts for tournaments and it was filled to the rafters. However, in 1968, more fans could take the train or carpooled and the parking issue at the high school had not yet become as great a problem as it is now.

The Sacred Heart Shamrocks, who were a dominant basketball and football power in the 1960s and 1970s, won the 1968 tournament with the Terry Terriers taking second place.

They weren’t going to state, as they had in 1918 and 1943. There was a another round of games in 1968 that hadn’t existed in early years. There were now Eastern Divisionals.

By 1993, the District 4C basketball tournament has a group similar to the competitors of 25 years before. Plevna, Wibaux, Hysham, Northern Cheyenne, Jordan, Ekalaka and Rosebud were the competitors.

The Star headline on Monday, Feb. 22, read: “Plevna overpowers Wibaux to take the title.” The Terry Terriers defeated the Hysham Pirates for the third slot into the divisional tournament.

In 1968 and 1993, there were photos from the games on the front and sports pages of the Star, showing the competition, the fans, and the general excitement. In early years, photos were engravings made in lead and local pictures were rare.

So even if the snow is up to our eyebrows, we know spring must be coming because the basketball tournaments have been here.

( Amorette Allison is a local history columnist.)