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COLUMN: Slow start and a big finish, pitch by pitch

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | July 21, 2021 9:13 PM

For Colten Boyle, 32 hours lasted forever and four years went by in a blink.

The 2017 Flathead High graduate is a newly minted Scholastic All-American by National Collegiate Rugby, after his senior season at Wheeling (West Virginia) University.

Boyle played very solid rugby for the Cardinals, who finished seventh at the most recent College Rugby Championships. Along the way he pushed his cumulative grade-point average to 3.75 and earned his degree in Elementary Education, which is to say rugby has been very, very good to him.

“The only way to make it to college was to play sports,” Boyle said, and while he liked football he wasn’t getting much attention on the gridiron. But after joining the local Black and Blue team, well, things began to fall into place.

“It has paid for almost my whole education,” he added. “And I did find the love of my life when I went to college.”

OK, let’s back up. When Boyle was a junior in high school Boyd Lejeune, the rugby coach at LSU-Alexandria, visited the Black and Blue. A year or so later an offer was on the table for Boyle to join the Generals and experience the college rugby landscape.

He wasn’t sure about this.

“I came home and my mom said, ‘Hey son — you’re packing up your car and you’re driving to Louisiana tomorrow,’” Boyle said. “I drove 32 hours, by myself. Just me and my mini-fridge.”

His mom, Heather Boyle, confirms this.

“He was kind of stalling out on me,” she said. “They offered him that scholarship and I said, ‘You know what, you’ve got to go.’ We packed him up.

“Then I found out all the other moms drove their kids to college.”

The car may have made the younger Boyle unique among freshmen at LSU-A, but he did find a couple Helena kids, Josh Slick and Cody Maykuth, to lean on. Boyle, even though he’d arrived late, found a starting spot on a 15s squad that started the season 16-0 before a loss in the CRC semifinals.

Then, suddenly, he was looking at another long drive.

“After that, LSU-A saw fit that the rugby team should no longer be a sponsored program,” he said.

That brought him to the Wheeling Cardinals, along with a Central Michigan transfer named Brian Gannon who became team captain and was the team’s only other senior this spring besides Boyle.

All of this is cool, and so is landing a post-graduate scholarship along with his girlfriend, that will allow both of them to earn their Master’s degrees at Wheeling.

Yet the best part is the experience. Boyle has counted it up: He’s been to 37 of our 50 states. He’s played alongside kids from Morocco, Ireland, South Africa, Zimbabwe…

“You get such a cultural experience,” he said. “Montana, it’s not very diverse, which isn’t a big deal, but to come out here and experience this — it’s great.”

Lance Heavirland, the longtime and former coach of the Black and Blue, noted Boyle wasn’t the most impressive prospect when he hit the pitch in Kalispell.

“I’m not so sure about this kid,” he remembered. “Then he grows on you like a fungus, and he develops his skills and then he’s so into the sport you want to do everything you could for him.

“Colten is the reason you coach.”

A recruiting class before Boyle got to Wheeling, four Kalispell players — Orie Mann, Nick Ivacolli, Brandon Windauer and Dawson Day — joined the Cardinals. Their moms didn’t take them either: Black and Blue assistant coach Bob Kiesel captained that cruise.

Whatever works. Boyle is happy to have ended at a school of 1,500 with ample opportunity for one-on-one teaching. He can thank the players who paved the way, and coaches like Heavirland, Kiesel and Dave Kenkel.

And one other person that gave him a kick in the rear bumper.

“Thanks, Mom,” Boyle says. “If my mom didn’t shove me out the door I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.