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The meaning of Class C basketball

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Junior Gus Hammond (0) and his teammates cheer on the Big Horns on the court during a home game against the Gardiner Bruins. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER


BIG SKY – People have many different ways of seeking an adrenaline rush. It may be hitting a big cliff on the mountain or that moment of pulling the trigger when hunting. For me, it’s hearing the stomps and claps as the following words echo through the gym: “Now, for the starting lineup for your Lone Peak Big Horns…” That is what gets me going.

Everybody remembers the sports they played in high school. At most normal sized high schools that have hundreds to thousands of kids, many don’t have the opportunity to be on a varsity team. Then there is Montana Class C basketball.

I go to our local high school in Big Sky, Lone Peak High School, home of the Big Horns. LPHS is just over 10 years old but has already had a big impact on the community.

Big Sky is one of the best places to grow up. To be a part of an expanding school and community is always a roller coaster of emotions. I have 28 kids in my class, and I’ve sure had my opportunity to explore the world of varsity sports.

The 12C District, which LPHS competes in, includes high schools from West Yellowstone, Ennis, Gardiner, White Sulphur Springs, Shields Valley, Manhattan Christian and Harrison/Willow Creek. To be a Class C school means that your high school has no more than 100 students enrolled.

This past basketball season was without a doubt one of the craziest seasons the Lone Peak Big Horns have had. My team and I played almost 20 games this season. Over half of those games came within six, seven or eight points. One of the most memorable games of my life was playing the Gardiner Bruins on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022.

We had played this team twice before and split wins. While the game was close the whole time, it came down to the last seconds. The Bruins were up 40 – 42 and my teammate, Juliusz Shipman, snagged an amazing rebound and finished with a layup to send the game into overtime. Overtime was tight, but the Bruins ultimately walked with the victory.

Although there were many more losses than wins this past season, my team and I never gave up. Every game there was blood, sweat and tears left on the court.

There are many unbelievable stories from rural basketball courts throughout the southwestern corner of Montana. For example, there is nothing quite like the Battle of 191: the aggressive, sweaty and tear-jerking games between the Big Horns and the West Yellowstone Wolverines.

Hammond drives to the basket during the Big Horns’ final game of the 2021-22 season on the road against rivals the West Yellowstone Wolverines. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

It’s always a riot playing in West Yellowstone. This year we had a fire alarm go off, an insanely close win for our Lady Big Horns, and even a West Yellowstone fan getting ejected. Let’s just say they can get rowdy. But I live for games like that.

Having people I have known my entire life in the stands cheering me on always puts a smile on my face. These games get so unruly because, quite frankly, a high school basketball game on Friday or Saturday nights is the place to be in these small towns. These fans like to support their small communities.

For some kids in rural Montana, the basketball courts are where they deal with things on their minds. Growing up in small communities like these, you know everyone, and everyone knows you. It can be nice to get away from all that and play some basketball in an old, historic gym.

Many kids, including myself, have friendships with fellow 12C student athletes. It’s almost as if we all go to one big school. Since I go to school with only about 100 kids, it is nice to make friends outside of that realm. One team that I bond with is the Bruins. My team and I share a fond friendship with the guys of Gardiner.

When all the teams come together during post-season play, it’s fun to see everyone playing basketball together. But there are many different relationships between schools. Some kids have dated, some are friends, and some even flat out hate each other. It’s a unique thing to witness and be a part of.

Driving across southwestern Montana truly signifies Class C. Missing hours and hours of school because of a sport is a high school student’s favorite. Lima, Montana, home of the Bears, is only 76 miles from Big Sky as the crow flies. This trip turns into a 3 hour and 50 minute bus ride. These bus rides are full of fun team traditions and great conversations full of laughter and bonding.

These traditions on the bus ride can include a variety of conversations, and sometimes songs. Our coach, John Hannahs, likes to tell us his best stories of growing up on a ranch that keep all of us intrigued. We talk about games, what we need to do better and how to understand the opponent. And on the way home, win or lose, we try to make the best of it. I’m starting to realize that growing up goes by too fast. Playing basketball with the people I have known my whole life is a great way to spend my time.

Basketball doesn’t just teach you about the sport; it teaches you how to become a person in our society. Growing up in Big Sky, you realize that not every Class C community is the same, but we all have a fond respect for each other that carries through Montana’s Class C high schools.

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