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Western Montana Has Enjoyed a Variety of Sports by Ray T. Rocene

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Western Montana Has Enjoyed a Variety of Sports

 

Horse Racing as Feature of Fair to Have Renewal


From the Sunday Missoulian, Sunday Morning, August 18, 1940

 


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by Ray T. Rocene*

Horse-racing, as the oldest sport known to the white man in Western Montana, has its dues as the major sports attraction of the Diamond Jubilee at the county fairgrounds track, with four days of thrilling competition for thorough-breds, cold-blooded horses and chariot runners.

The first settlers relied on their horses for their very lives, and the faster, stronger the steed, the better their opportunities of surviving. So it was only natural that the first sport thought of in Western Montana was horse racing, each owner ready to back his fastest with his poke of gold.

Many a stirring tale has been unfolded by the old-timers of the flight of their favorites across the prairie and over impromptu courses. Later the Montana racing circuit came with its imported horses to add zest.

In the Bitter Root valley Marcus Daly created the greatest racing stable of the country during the past century and his outstanding thoroughbreds made history on tracks throughout the United States.

Bob Wade established a two-furlong speed record of 21 ¼ seconds at Butte in 1890 and in 1906 Atoka ran three furlongs in 33 ½ seconds.

Fifty years ago Missoula was on the Montana racing circuit, starting just before the Fourth of July and continuing for several weeks, then moving to Deer Lodge and Butte.

Purses of $250 were common on the daily program of the horse races here at that time.

Trotting horses had ample opportunity to perform in harness events. Pony races were given a place on the program. There was even Ladies’ day at the racetrack here in 1890.

Harness racing was very popular through the years and generally had a place on the fair program, Sam Elder among the most successful drivers. He came to Western Montana in 1891, handled the John R. Daily string of horses for years and at his death in 1935 was still very active in the sport.

Missoula this year is on the circuit which has entertained fast horses at Great Falls and Billings in the Northern Montana and Midland Empire fairs, and the pick of these thoroughbreds, moving west towards Spokane, are to be on the program here ending with the Diamond Jubilee Derby on Sunday, August 25.

 

 

OUTDOOR SPORTS

Hunting and fishing furnished livelihood for many a Western Montanan in the early days, its growth continuing through the years despite the necessity of protecting the game and fish with closed seasons and the intensity of propagation necessary to the future enjoyment of the sport. More visitors are coming to Montana each year from other states to enjoy this paradise of the wide open spaces.

The Biological Survey sets the migratory bird hunting seasons and the state fixes other bird and game hunting dates for the sportsmen, as well as regulating fishing. Despite annual kills, Montana still has 120,000 deer, 25,000 elk, 10,000 antelopes, 7,000 black bear, 450 grizzly bear, and 4,000 mountain goats. The buck law is now strictly enforced in deer hunting in the state.

Limits have been fixed for fish, and the hours of angling regulated. Some streams are fished out, restocked, and the sportsmen find them as good as in the days of old. Much has been accomplished toward helping the streams and waters regain their fish life, the State and Federal hatcheries constantly supplying fry and fingerlings.

Only 20 years ago there was a three-month duck season with a daily bag limit of 20, and the deer season lasted two months. But that’s changed now.

Skiing is an outdoor sport which has gained tremendously in recent years, with as rapid forward strides as the person enjoying slalom takes.

Ski lifts are found here and there, with the most popular spots for the activity, in addition to the Pattee canyon course being developed gradually, at Lookout pass, at Gibbons pass, in the Blackfoot country, and near Whitefish.

Ski trains have been run on the railroads in recent years to distant points, ski tournaments both for adults and high school students have proved interesting, entertaining, and sporty.

Even though there have been a few minor accidents, with fractures of arms and legs apparently not infrequent, if hospital lists are consulted, the skiers have a very good time. Good equipment is growing insurance against injuries, and the more the lifts and courses are improved, the less will be the accidents.

Apparently skiing has as bright a future as any sport in Western Montana, provided sufficient snow comes during the winter season to permit its full enjoyment. In some areas there is little skiing before January, so the season is not very long. There is far more opportunity for skiing than for skating in Western Montana.

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BASEBALL

Baseball bugs have bellowed encouragement at Missoula tossers on the diamond for more than 50 years. Play in the early days was on a lot near the present Northern Pacific depot, where the Missoula Giants of old battled in 1890-91-92, Clark Griffith came to Missoula in 1892 as a star pitcher for the Giants, leaving the Tacoma Coast league clubs, and moving from here to the majors, to remain since as manager and magnate. Hugh Campbell was the early-day leader of Missoula baseball and remained a commanding figure on the diamond for more than 30 years.

Missoula played many ferocious struggles with Fort Missoula in the days when colored infantry constituted the garrison. Later Missoula played successfully in the Montana State league with Butte, Helena, Anaconda, Bozeman and other teams its foes. Sheldon Lejeune, Charley Swain and other professional stars started their careers here.

In 1911 the Union Association came to Missoula for a three-year stay, with the Highlanders piloted by Clifton D. Blankenship winning the pennant in 1912, with a colorful array, including experienced veterans and choice youngsters, among them Bullet Joe Bush, later a major league star in the box.

The Bitter Root league was organized in 1916, Missoula having two teams, the Highlanders and the Northern Pacific. Hamilton won the pennant, with Stevensville second. Bonner and Corvallis were also members of the circuit.

The Missoula City league was organized in 1918 and continued to furnish baseball here through the season of 1934, the first at the new ballpark on South Higgins avenue. In 1935 University Store, managed by Morris McCollum, furnished baseball here, continuing into the Montana State league championship in 1937, and the Montana semi-pro tournament title in 1939.

The Flathead league has played ball for several summers, with strong teams turned out at Ronan, Charlo, St. Ignatius, Arlee, Polson, Dixon and Thompson Falls. In the Western Montana league play of 1937, Kalispell was the title-winner in a playoff against Ronan, while in 1938 University Store was on top.

Kalispell baseball has flourished, with Somers, Half Moon, Whitefish and Columbia Falls interested participants. Libby has presented a strong front through several seasons.

American Legion junior baseball play, initiated by Hellgate post, has been operating under the Active club’s sponsorship in recent years, with a state championship team coached by Nick Mariana and led by Douglas Campbell in 1938. This nine played in the Northwest regional series at Silverton. The 1940 team competed in the state finals in Miles City.

Among the greatest teams in Western Montana history was the Hamilton club of 1911, which had “Moose” Whaling catching, Weiser Dell, Joe Gebeau and Gray pitching and a choice lineup managed by Eddie Hammond, pioneer of Northwest baseball. Kalispell had an exceptional outfit through the same period, with Gus Thompson, pitcher, and Rabbit Robertson, infielder, as its stars. Ronan had splendid baseball teams at intervals, in 1916, 1938 and 1939 in particular.

The sport has moved around and around, but seems to have found a resting place in the South Higgins avenue park, known as Campbell field. From the old Montana hotel lot, play moved to the south side of the Van Buren street bridge, uptown to the Loyola high school and Northern Pacific lots, with the N. P. team using a field near the foot of Waterworks hill at one time.

Intercollegiate baseball ended in 1928, while high school baseball faded from the picture about 1911, giving way to track.

Bonner now has a fine baseball diamond at Kelley Pine field, named after a former ball star, who was killed in a highway accident. Bonner baseball is two score years old and bathed in the memory of Dutch Loehner, Harry Egan, Benny Bryan, Chief Hudson, Louie Anderson, Roy Duchemin, Doc Wais, Chris Magnussen and others who played in fast company.

Stevensville recaptures ancient diamond glory at least once each summer, with the Creamery picnic ball game, which has brought the fastest teams in the state to the valley diamond.

Ronan has one of the finest baseball stadia in the West, and it has been the scene of spirited competition. Fans still say that a 3-2 July 4 battle at Ronan in 1938 was among the best contests ever seen in Montana.

The Coeur d’Alene country had fast baseball in the early days, at St. Regis, Superior, DeBorgia and other points. Drummond went in for big-time baseball one season, with Jack Halla, a former major league southpaw, as its pitching ace.

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TRACK AND FIELD

Achievements of brilliant runners such as Greg Rice, the best long distance runner in the country, Sprinter Russell Sweet and Arnie Gillette, midget marathoner, have brought Montana track and field sports to the front.

It dates back to the Interscholastic meet of the State University, originated here in 1904 and continued since successfully, with its ups and downs financially, but constantly bringing keenest of competition among the state’s athletes.

Butte and Missoula have been most successful in the Interscholastics, the Spartans having won the last two meets by decisive scores, just as they won the first in 1904. Records continue to tumble each year and now compare favorably with the best in the country. The 6 foot 3 inch effort of Steve Muchmore, Drummond, in the 1940 high jump is merely an indication of the way the sport is constantly progressing in Montana. The shotput mark was smashed by John Mohland, Missoula, with a flip of 51 feet 3 ½ inches, last May.

Montana State University has enjoyed consistent success on track and field through the years. Its 1940 squad won four straight dual meets, being among its best, adding a record in the low hurdles to the long list of marks held by Grizzlies.

Probably the most interest in track and field sports this spring was excited by the individual efforts of Paul Kampfe, a sensational and capable all-around marvel from Flathead county high school.

Track and field sports are ardently pursued by Western Montana high schools in the spring, the Ravalli county meet, the Lake county meet, the Sanders county meet, the Flathead meet, the Granite county meet, the Mineral county meet, all tending to develop unusual performers.

Plains won the Class B Interscholastic honors in 1940 with an outstanding athlete in Arnold Scott, as strong and swift a star as Montana has seen in action. Hot Springs feels that in its 1939 graduate, Gene Pitts, now at University of Wisconsin, it has another Cunningham.

Perhaps one of the most unusual happening in track and field sports came in 1908, when Dan Gish, an athlete imported by Missoula high won half a dozen events. The uproar that followed that stunt resulted in the state board of control kicking Missoula high out of its own hometown Interscholastic for a couple years.

Foot racing was a popular sport in Western Montana for years prior to the days of organized meets of intercollegiate or interscholastic character. John Pope, the plumber, was one of the fleetest sprinters that ever donned spikes in this country. Bob Carey was another swift.

And we’ve had some girls that stepped in a manner to rival lightning on the cinders, Miss Hambleton of Missoula was an Olympic candidate, and lassies from Hot Springs and Ronan who were faster than the North Coast Limited.

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FOOTBALL

First football association was formed in Missoula in 1890, athletes taking considerable kidding due to lacing themselves in the corset-like jackets.

Organized football started in Western Montana in 1897 when the Montana State University eleven first took the field, though Butte had seen high-class grid sport several years prior to that occasion. Through the years the Grizzlies grew in strength, until they were admitted to the Northwestern conference in December, 1915, and to the Pacific Coast conference in December, 1923.

Success of the grid play was intermittent, among the great teams those of 1904-09-10, an undefeated season in 1914, a 6-6 tie with the Syracuse Orange in 1915, Bernie Bierman’s conquerors of the Washington Huskies in 1920, Milburn’s 1926 eleven sparked by Billy Kelly, greatest of all Montana grid stars, and the winning 1930 team. Bunny Oakes had little luck, but Douglas Fessenden brought Montana back into winning strife, his 1937 team sweeping through its schedule with consecutive victories until encountering Idaho on a soggy field at Moscow, where a combination of circumstances and penalties resulted in the only defeat of the season.

Montana’s greatest football era lies ahead, and the first California elevens due to play here some time in the near future. The 1940 team may be one of the best that Coach Fessenden has placed on the field, with speed and scoring power. Its schedule starts September 28 against the Cheney Savages.

 

High School Football

Missoula county high school football play began in the early days of the current century and from the start the scholastic elevens were able to give Great Falls, Helena, Butte, Anaconda and others a battle on the gridiron. Missoula made bids for the title in 1909-10, again in 1912, when the final battle was lost by John McGough’s team to Gallatin Hawks, and finally smashed into a championship in 1921, under guidance of Connie Orr. The title game was played on an ice-bordered gridiron in early December, with Lewistown the victim, 33-0. Missoula next played in the state championship finals in 1934, losing to Billings at Butte. Whitefish, Flathead county high 1939 Class A champions and Polson, a consistent Class B district winner, have had several outstanding teams, while Libby perched on top in its division for several seasons. In the Bitter Root, Stevensville, Hamilton, Darby and Corvallis have taken turns in recent Class B play. Yellowjackets of the pre-war era comprised one of the best high school teams in the state, Stevensville having a really formidable outfit in 1915. Loyola high school of Missoula had fast teams until it ceased operating.

Plains won the six-man football title in Class C last fall, toppling Nashua in that sport, an innovation for smaller schools lacking material and finances for regular 11-man style. Several of the schools of Western Montana have adopted six-man football and enjoy participation during the season.

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BASKETBALL

Basketball was hampered in its early days by lack of playing courts. Missoula high school teams either used the small University gym or makeshift floors until the early winter of 1922, when the new gym was initiated, Spartans sparkling through a torrid schedule to their first state title and then traveled to Chicago to represent Montana in the National Interscholastic tournament where they finished seventh.

Grizzly basketball started about 1906, with independent teams foes in most of the games, though the State College early began development of the court sport. Muscatine, Iowa, Portage, Wis., and Illinois Athletic club of Chicago were among the national champions that stopped in Missoula on tour to play. The State University had a tough time in winning a championship, finally connecting in 1918, when the Bobcats could not get past big Chris Bentz, back court guard. Grizzlies repeated under Bernie Bierman in 1921-1922. Al Lewandowski’s University tossers were next to capture the crown in 1934, and in 1939 and 1940, “Jiggs” Dahlberg’s tossers won. A trip to Denver to play in the National tournament capped the last season where Montana won its first two games.

Independent basketball, church league basketball, and grade school basketball have progressed rapidly in the past 15 years since school gymnasiums were made available.

Considerable help is furnished high school basketball by preparatory courses in grade school play, in which most of the schools have at one time grabbed the final season honors.

Independent tournaments of recent years have brought really fast competition to Missoula basketball floors, teams from Western Montana showing stout form.

Basketball is the winter sport of Missoula’s neighboring towns. History shows outstanding teams mobilized on many courts in Western Montana, Corvallis, Stevensville, Hamilton, and Philipsburg in the early days. Darby during the 1920-21-22-23 era, then the Ronan Chiefs, the rustling Plainsmen of Plains, Thompson Falls’ blue-clad host, Superior Bobcats, Polson, Whitefish (for many successive years a tournament contender). Others have not made state tournaments but have figured in strong rivalries, Victor, St. Regis, Dixon, Arlee, Charlo, Florence, Drummond, Hot Springs, Lonepine, Columbia Falls, Libby, Troy, Lincoln county (remembered as a state contender in the early twenties) and others.

Flathead county high of Kalispell entered the state championship finals in the second Bozeman intercollegiate tournament in 1912 and continued to play high class basketball most of the time though hampered by lack of gym facilities. In recent winters the Braves have improved consistently and last season presented one of their finest quintets.

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GOLFERS GO OUT, BACK.

Despite starts in a double-round direction, Missoula golf courses have not progressed beyond the nine-hole stage. In 1917 Country club play was instituted in earnest south of the State University and when the club moved to the Fort Missoula military reservation a few years later, the Community course was organized to permit continued play. University and school students use the latter links to a great extent. The Missoula Country Club has each year since 1932 been host at a spring invitation tournament which is attracting more attention as it gains age. “Bud” Ward, National amateur champion of the United States, played here during May for a Kiwanis benefit fund.

Miss Grace Barnett of Missoula won the state championship in women’s play in six Montana tournaments. Paul Sechena of Missoula was runnerup in men’s play in 1938, Hamilton Thacher in 1922, Harold Speer won the open tournament six years ago. Ken Willard won the 1939 junior state title.

Growth of golf in Western Montana has been exceptional. Kalispell has a splendid course and a former women’s champion in Mrs. Frank Ross. Whitefish has for four years staged a great tournament during the Fourth of July holidays that has attracted much attention and keen competition. Par chasers say that Polson has one of the most attractive and interesting courses in the state. Golfers enjoy play at Plains, Stevensville, Hamilton, and elsewhere.

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FISTICUFFS.

Missoula’s ring activities date back to the old Bijou theater uptown, though much of Fistiana’s history here is obscured by age. Fort Missoula was a live spot through 1911-1912, when Ely Hamblin, the fighting switchman, Willie Sullivan, and others were featured. Jimmy Piquette staged fights at the old Rochester club, featuring Maurice Thompson, Paul Cantway (The Bitter Root Kid), Art Magirl, Frank Barrieau, Joe Bens, Johnny Tillman, and others. Hamilton promoters presented several strong ring cards at the same time.

Through 1918-19 Frank Conley brought some of the best fighters in the Northwest to Deer Lodge for private shows.

In 1921 boxing returned to legal status here, and for a number of years scrappers mixed it with considerable success. There were bouts in the Liberty theater, at the ballpark uptown, at the fairgrounds, and in an arena on Alder street. Earl France, Jack Josephs, Hank Bliven, Muff Bronson, Al Rose, Kid Jackson, Jimmy Cole, Cyclone Walker, Buzz Saw Leidle, Sewell Deane, Red McCauley, Henry Mitchell, Frankie Murphy, Frank Barrieau, Hal Jones, Roy Kelley, Pete Bross, Leo Stokes, Romeo Hagen, Mysterious Billy Smith, Battling Lomski (leading championship contender later), Al Sommers, Joe Marcus, Dixie Lahood, Young Firpo, Jimmy Lundy, Don Fraser, Jimmy Cottrell, Jimmy Sacco, Bob Sage, Al Gracio, Freddy Lenhardt, Soldier Murphy, Joe Merhar, the list of those who showed here is as long as the boxing records.

Fort Missoula fostered a series of bouts at the Fort gymnasium, which brought much keen competition. The new Fort recreation arena was the scene of CCC conflicts last winter and spring.

Billy Dugal’s amateur cards at the Loyola gym attracted general attention for a couple of years, eventually growing into a return of professional sport, with George Neva, Cal Linn, Ford Smith, Bobby McKay and Richie Fontaine among star performers.

Fontaine developed into one of the ring’s best in a series of bouts at the Loyola gym, his battle with Hub Dennis, the Bozeman Wildcat, a thriller of December, 1935. He later fought extensively in California, New York and elsewhere, having a championship clash with Henry Armstrong, whom he whipped before the Hurricane forged to the throne. Ford Smith also went East campaigning successfully.

Kalispell, Plains, Polson, Arlee, Helmville, Ronan, Stevensville, and Hamilton have been scenes of bloody cuffing conflicts.

Amateur boxing flourished through the last two years, particularly in the Flathead country, with Johnny Ingraham, a state champion, going to the Boston national tournament last winter. Ronan has provided excellent sport.

Collegiate boxing prospered in cycles at the State University. Roy Babich, grid star, won the Pacific intercollegiate heavyweight title several years ago.

Jack Dempsey, heavyweight champion of the world, appeared on the stage in an act here in the fall of 1921, and Tommy Gibbons, touring Montana in 1923 prior to his bout with Dempsey at Shelby, sparred three fast rounds with Billy Kelly, then a Missoula high school athlete. Kelly ripped into Gibbons with both fists for a surprising scramble. More than 60 Missoula fans went to Shelby for the heavyweight championship fight July 4, 1923, which bankrupted the town.

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BOWLING

Bowling attracts more than 300 Missoula men and women to the alleys from September far into April, being the most generally participated competitive sport in the city. The tenpin sport dates far back, with its “ins” and “outs”, its permanent revival just before the World war, at the Rochester alleys, and its expansion at the Idle Hour alleys. Women’s tournament bowling originated here in 1928 through the enterprise of a group of Missoula women strikers, who have watched their association grow in tremendous strides. State tournaments were rolled on Missoula alleys by the Montana Bowling association (men) in 1920, 1926, 1932 and 1937. Herricks of Missoula was the only men’s quintet to win the five-man team title in the open tournament history with a score of 2,838 at Great Falls in 1934. Singles honors were won by Fred Miller, who has never missed a state tournament, in 1917 with 640, by Art Bussard with 674 in 1921, and by Bill Murray with 600 in 1923, doubles by Tom Carey and Tom Farley in 1920, Bill Murray and Lloyd Zbinden in 1933, and all events by Bill Akin in 1925, by Pete Jezich in 1926, by Bill Murray in 1930, by Roy Hamilton in 1935.

Missoula women won state team honors in 1928, 1929 and 1933. Thelma Howell, Hope Mitchell and Lauretta Tingley struck for singles laurels. Mrs. Tingley and Bernice Anderson, Mrs. Ozete Larson and Amelia Borgen, Dorothy Smading and M. Driscoll were listed amid doubles winners.

The Rocky Mountain tournament is a fall feature growing in size each year, preceding the big home football game of the season, an attraction to many visitors.

The Northwest Eagles’ tournament originated here, and has grown to an amazing extent since the local Eagles bowlers put their enthusiasm into it. The Pacific Northwest International Bowling congress may come here in the near future. The list of 300 games grows year by year, the first recalled being that shot by Fritz Larson in 1916. The late Dick Hayden, “Scotty” Morrison, Roy Johnson, Chet Staples, and Great Falls’ Toole, participating in the 1937 state tournament, also snapped a consecutive series of strikes for a 300 score.

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TRAP, RIFLE SHOOTING

Trapshooting has been pursued for many years, with some dormant intervals, one caused by an accident which resulted in a youth losing an eye. A state tournament was held here in 1938, the first in more than thirty years in Missoula. The traps have been established on the Fort Missoula military reservation, where a clubhouse has been built for the accommodation of the gunners. Skeet has enjoyed stimulating competition in the last few years. Gunners were cracking the bluerocks at the traps here every open Sunday in the early days of this century and they are busy Sundays or Friday evenings at the present. Many a string has been fired and the number of bluerocks hit would string the border of the United States if laid end to end. Well, almost, anyway.

Riflemen have enjoyed ample opportunity at sharpshooting on indoor and outdoor ranges in recent years. The Northwest Rifle tournament first came here in 1924, continued through 1931, moved to Spokane, returned here in 1938, and was finally fired in Pattee canyon in 1940, the association deciding then to disband and conduct rifle, small bore and pistol shoots separately in the future. The Missoula Rifle association has been firing for years on various indoor ranges, with keen competition by civilian, college, high school and soldier sharpshooters. Women as well as men fire in this schedule. Hamilton and Corvallis have a group of rifle enthusiasts who rate high in competition. The Skalkaho shoot is an annual feature, won by Hamilton this year.

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SOFTBALL

Softball was first played indoors by Missoula enthusiasts nearly 30 years ago in a vacant second-story hall on East Front street, a winter league keeping the sports busy until spring permitted out-of-doors fun.

Grade schools adopted the sport in earnest about 15 years ago and played in organized league games for several spring seasons. Roosevelt topped the schoolboy strife this spring.

A few years ago the sport blossomed into league competition for adults, both men and women enjoying play.

Missoula tens made trips to Chicago National competition, the Forest Rangers and the Garden City Floral club, the latter composed mainly of Orchard Homes girls, having the opportunity to participate, though neither progressed far. Both squads traveled east after winning in state tourney strife, the Rangers in 1937, the girls in 1938.

Play continues in both Class AA and Class A leagues in Missoula this season. The state softball championship tournament is at Livingston August 24 and 25.

Missoula girls have found some worthwhile competition this summer, while not organized for league play, after winning several tournaments last year.

Softball has flourished at Kalispell, where many compete in play, at Hamilton, at Ronan, and in other Western Montana towns.

It is a sport furnishing fun for all, not demanding too much in training or equipment, though the more a team practices the better it plays.

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TENNIS

Early tennis courts were few and small, and even as late as 1928 it was necessary to play a state tournament on the private Greenough courts near the banks of the Rattlesnake. State University students were for years among the best tennis players in the state, Kenneth Simmons, John Lewis, and Donald Barnett in pre-war days among the most formidable racquet wielders. Later the Interscholastic competition brought the development of some strong talent at Missoula high school, such as Randolph Jacobs, Robert Grantier, Peggy Blakney and others. The Bitter Root schools have consistently developed clever tennis players, the Strates of Darby among the contestants in earlier years who made the throne room, while this spring two Hamilton lassies met in the girl’s finals.

The expansion of the State University courts and the building of many public playground courts through the city is serving to spur the sport here.

Missoula has played club schedules, with ladders for competing members, through the past two years, meeting intercity foes with much success. Guy Fox of the State University faculty won the men’s singles titles at the last state tournament. W. W. Wickes was listed as first Missoula city champion.

Bill Tilden and his traveling troupe of tennis players gave an exhibition at the University gym before a capacity crowd a few years ago.

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OTHER SPORTS

Anglers have enjoyed casting tournaments here, the largest in 1929, when outstanding Western experts participated in events.

Archery has prospered in the last two years, and various matches have been shot by the bow experts in competition with other communities.

Badminton play started at the State University and moved to the Loyola court, with a club being organized to participate in state. Alison Vinal of Missoula was among the champions developed here, while in club competition the local talent showed skill.

Cock fighting has had its ups and downs since the early days through the last couple of years, when a number of privileged spectators have seen the birds raised here go through their stunts. A number of fighting cocks have been shipped from Missoula in the last five years.

Handball players have been restricted by lack of suitable courts much of the time, but have progressed to the point of entering state competition on several occasions. There are a number of men who have had much fun from this sport without formal struggles against outside experts, enjoying the exercise more than any other factor.

Missoula winters are too uncertain for hockey, though the sport is old here. In 1910 A. E. H. Clarke, veteran Butte hockey promoter, organized a team which played on a rink beneath the Higgins avenue bridge. Several times since then, Missoula skaters have formed hockey clubs, with Milltown also having a fast team featuring the Thibodeau family a few years back. The State University was represented for a couple of seasons on the ice. Paradise has enjoyed hockey for several years, ex-Minnesotans working at the tie-treating plant keenest enthusiasts.

Horseshoe pitching reached its crest about 11-12 years ago, when several leagues functioned, with the sport pursued on the courts near the fire station. Interest gradually dropped, however, though there is some play at the Kiwanis courts. Several exhibition matches have been tossed by championship claimants of barnyard golf.

Wrestling has its “ins” and “outs.” It bobs up every so often. Just after the World war Basanta Singh, Rube Dishman and others put on shows here, with John Berg and Ted Thye following. Then came the first woman wrestler, a flop as far as attracting crowds. Merry Tony Bernardi brought his troupe for a two-year stand, but after that clever promoter passed on to the Coast, interest flopped to zero and an attempt to revive the show was rejected by fans staying away in large numbers.

 

* One of Missoula's best known sports writers was no doubt Ray T. Rocene. Writing for the Missoulian, his sports column seemed to cover anything that was even remotely related to the sporting world. He wrote about Missoula's sports from 1910 to 1968. Even after retiring as the full-time sports editor of the Missoulian in 1960, he continued to write his column, Rocene's Sports Jabs, until the year of his death in 1968. He was 74 when he died. Missoula athletics still honors Rocene with the yearly presentation of the Sportsperson of the Year Award, currently held at the KPAX Sports Award Banquet. Rocene's wit and incisive, no nonsense style of writing made him a popular sports scribe for all of his life. His phenominal memory kept his readers informed of events and people that could harken back for decades. His interests ranged from professional sporting events to Grizzly athletics, high schools, and even grade school events. Many of his columns make interesting reading even today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 August 2015 17:39