By Al Malinowski EBS Columnist
NFL Hall of Fame Coach Bill Parcells is known for having famously stated, “You are what your record says you are.” Many sports fans likely agree with Coach Parcells. After all, sports are played to determine who’s the winner and who’s the loser, while those moral victories won’t show up in the standings.
Every once in a while, a team comes along whose chemistry does not fit that narrative. This year, the Lima High School boys basketball team has been establishing themselves as deserving of respect, but not because of their record.
The bus trip to Big Sky from Lima is roughly 200 miles. Lima is located near the Montana-Idaho border, and unless you’re lost, there are not many reasons someone leaving Big Sky would pass through Lima on their way to anywhere.
Last Spring, Lima’s high school reported an enrollment of 20 total students to the Montana High School Association. For the sake of comparison, Lone Peak High School claimed 109. However, Lima is an example of the resiliency present in so many small Montana towns, that take great pride in maintaining their local school district and their school’s athletic programs.
The 2020-21 Lima Bears boy’s roster includes five players: five starters, zero subs. If all goes well, each player will play the entire 32 minutes in each basketball game the Bears take the court for. Should anyone get injured or foul out, the team is forced to finish the game short-handed. The Lima basketball team has experienced playing five-on-four several times this season. In some cases, after establishing a commanding lead, their opponents have agreed to remove one player from the action and compete four-against-four.
In the classic movie, Hoosiers, actor Gene Hackman coaches the rural Hickory Huskers basketball team of eight players to the Indiana State Championship. More locally, the outstanding novel by Stanley Gordon West, Blind Your Ponies, follows the Willow Creek High School basketball team of six players to the Montana State Championship. The teams in those stories experienced playing games short-handed, similar to the Lima Bears. Proving that reality is less forgiving than fiction however, the Lima Bears team has yet to win a game this season.
The Lima players certainly understood the challenge they faced when they decided to embark on the season. Unlike the athletes on other high school teams, who likely start the season assessing potential wins on their schedule or jockeying for playing time, the Bears had to realistically wonder if they could make it through the season. Could they win a game was a more appropriate question than how many.
However, the members of the Lima boys basketball team share one important trait with other successful basketball players: their desire to win. One has to admire a team that ignores overwhelming obstacles and finds a way to compete each night.
While I was selfishly pleased it didn’t come against our Lone Peak Big Horns this past weekend, I know I join many opposing fans and even some officials who secretly hope the Bears find a way to earn a victory this season. But if that elusive win doesn’t come, the team can take solace in the words of an 8-time NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Coach, the late Pat Summit of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, who believed, “Winning is fun, sure. But winning is not the point. Wanting to win is the point. Not giving up is the point. Never letting up is the point. Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.”
Win or lose, I believe the Lima Bears have made their point.
Al Malinowski has lived in Big Sky for over 25 years. He has coached middle school and high school basketball at the Big Sky School District for 22 of those years. He believes participation in competitive athletics has been critical in establishing his core values.