Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Column: A look back at an oddly fulfilling 2020

Daily Inter Lake | January 13, 2021 9:39 PM

I put off doing a best of 2020 column – a Top 10 list that I started half a lifetime ago when I was at the Billings Gazette – until 2021 because, well, I didn’t think much of 2020 and wanted a new slate.

So then we got to last Wednesday and of course that was (checks notes), Jan. 6, and a whole bunch of, um, people overran the U.S. capitol. I still wasn’t feeling it.

We’ll try again. I do feel fortunate to have landed this gig at the Daily Inter Lake, and the first year – I began on Dec. 17, 2019 – flew by, even with a three-month gap without sports. That was the COVID-19 thing that seems to be hanging on despite, I mean because of, our second- and third-best efforts.

Speaking of second-best efforts, here’s a little exercise I accidentally pulled off in the days after Biden won the election:

I took to Facebook and parroted the guy who ran second, writing, “I won 1980 Harlowton Homecoming king BY A LOT!”

Most people got the joke, but I’ll be darned if a few didn’t congratulate me.

In truth I was 129 pounds as a senior in high school and pretty good at Strat-O-Matic and math and art, and wasn’t sure I liked writing.

I’ve said many, many times since that I was the all-Southwestern B manager (also not a thing) to explain why I’m in this line of work. I competed here and there. I was better at spectating.

I still remember Big Timber’s Bret Argenbright hitting a pull-up jumper from half-court to beat Harlowton, and Harlo coach Don Holst’s glasses meeting their demise. My hometown-proud bench-warming butt was hoping for an Engineers’ win, of course, but I am still glad I witnessed that moment.

Here are some more moments I took away from 2020.

  1. Western AA Divisional. When I started covering sports Class AA had divisionals, then they went away, and then while I was out of the biz they came back. It was great to see all that talent on hand at Missoula Sentinel High School (and also at Hellgate). I’d hoped more than one Kalispell team qualified for state – better story – but there was so much good basketball.

  2. Glacier’s Simon Hill. The pandemic robbed us of spring sports and one of my favorite things to do – be outside at a track and field meet. So we rustled up a feature on Hill, who’d won the state cross country championship the October before, and he gave me the quote of the year. “Butterflies in formation,” indeed.

  3. Glacier’s Brooks Michaels. “Tank” had his sights set on throwing discus and shot in college, but there was no track and field this spring. So Inter Lake photographer Casey Kreider went to Tank’s grandmother’s backyard and got an awesome socially distanced picture of him throwing.

  4. State AA golf. OK, this wasn’t just a golf week in Missoula. There was a football shootout between Glacier and Hellgate, with Jake Rendina scoring a school-record seven touchdowns. There was a girls’ soccer match between the Flathead and Sentinel girls. And there was golf, where Glacier’s boys tried to keep pace with Sentinel and Gallatin, and took home the third-place trophy. Special consideration for the Glacier girls’ player who, at the end, told coach Doug Manaker, “I cried on four holes today.”

  5. Rendina/Glacier. The junior racked up 28 rushing touchdowns and 1,325 yards in nine games. Both numbers far and away led Class AA, and led the Pack into the playoffs. But my favorite play remains a 34-yard screen play for a touchdown in the crosstown game. Blame it on Don Read: I love a good screen.

  6. The story on Kalispell’s connection to the 1969-70 Camellia Bowls, where the Montana Grizzlies ran second to North Dakota State. I didn’t leave much on the cutting room floor from interviews with Tim Gallagher, Terry Pugh, Doug Bain and John Talolutu. But how many of you know – or knew but forgot – that Flathead High brothers Ron (MSU) and Doug Bain (Montana) both had touchdown receptions in the 1968 Cat-Griz game? Ron Bain in fact had two, one while the Cats rallied from a 24-9 fourth-quarter deficit to win 29-24.

  7. State wrestling. I hadn’t been back to the a Metra but once since leaving the Gazette in 2004. In between a tornado tore off the roof, but I couldn’t tell any difference upon aamy return – you still couldn’t get a tweet or a text out of that place. The good news? Flathead’s second place finish, the titles won by Glacier’s Teegan Vasquez and Eureka’s Gunnar Smith, Nathan Schmidt and Hank Dunn, along with Mission-Charlo’s Isaiah Allik and Thompson Falls’ Trae Thilmony. Meanwhile Sidney lapped the Class A field.

  8. State cross country. Eureka came through with a second straight boys’ state championship on a Rebecca Farm course magically cleared of a ton of overnight snow. Side note: As a college student I umpired (for American dollars) baseball games for Mt. Sentinel Little League and Eureka coach Andy Gideon was pitching.

  9. Flathead Valley soccer. Whitefish boys and Glacier girls are state champions, Whitefish for the third straight year and Glacier for the first time ever. I’m a novice when it comes to covering soccer, but the highlights were plenty and the interviews were great. I relied on players’ descriptives on many goals in which I wasn’t at all certain what happened. That’s how “It was a circus” (Glacier’s Diego Mendoza) winds up in the paper.

  10. The look back at Flathead’s 1989 boys’ basketball title. It’s still the last one in school history, and I did some other oral histories (Glacier boys, Flathead wrestling) but this one really came out the best. One of the keys was a couple Flathead players said I should contact Gary Kane and Todd Ericson, who were on the other side of that title game. Someone recalled Kane banking in a 3-pointer to beat Billings West and I remembered it differently, so I went to the source. “That baby was clean,” Kane said.

That will do it for me, for 2020. I’m going to wish us all a happier 2021, with the caveat that we take this noise one week at a time. It would be good if this year got things squared away.

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or