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Heart Butte basketball team has rough road to state tourney

February 28, 2018

In this Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 photo, Heart Butte High School basketball players Cody Aimsback, 17, left, and Jamison Young Running Crane, 16, sit on a bed at the Best Western in Butte, Mont., before heading out to practice for the state Class C tournament, which starts Thursday. The team's road to the tournament has been difficult, with personal losses this season and an ongoing winter storm that has prevented them from going home since Feb. 13. (Susan Dunlap/The Montana Standard via AP)

The Heart Butte boys’ basketball team heads into this weekend’s state tournament with an unbeaten record, a remarkable feat for a squad that has endured personal family losses while spending weeks on the road because of daunting winter weather conditions.

“I’m sure they miss their own beds, their own home, their own life and everything,” said Heart Butte athletic director Ross Drishinski. “But I’ve heard their coach tell them several times ‘this is a business trip.’ They have a job to do and that’s why they’re here.”

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation — their home along the Rocky Mountain Front just east of Glacier National Park — has endured blowing and drifting snow for weeks that has made travel nearly impossible. Classes have been cancelled and tribal members are using snowmobiles to deliver food, medication and firewood to outlying residences while rotary plows are trying to break through up to 6 feet of snow.

The team has spent the last two weeks living out of hotels as they travel from tournament to tournament, either because they couldn’t get home or feared if they did blowing snow would keep them from getting to their next game.

Along the way the Warriors have logged a 24-0 record going into this weekend’s state Class C basketball tournament in Butte.

“That’s kind of resilient for high school kids to step up and act like NBA players and be on the road and still do well and keep their minds focused,” said Superintendent Lee Folley.

“Everybody’s been coming together on this, not just our community but the state of Montana has been more than happy to help,” coach Kellen Hall said.

People have donated money for meals and the team has had practice time available at Shelby High School, Great Falls Central and Butte Central. Great Falls Central, which lost its final regular-season game to Heart Butte, even loaned them basketballs for practice.

“There’s people in Butte that want to provide us meals,” Hall said Wednesday, noting that the players are missing home cooked meals with their families. “That’s been the toughest part, honestly.”

Classes have been cancelled in Heart Butte for much of the past three weeks, so the players don’t even have homework to keep them busy.

“We’ve been trying to do a little bit of team things,” such as going to movies, the mall, watching basketball on television and even playing video games, Hall said.

“I never allow video games, but we’ve been having tournaments on video games,” Hall said. It’s one way to get them all in the room, cheering and competing.

The team has also endured personal losses. Hall’s mother died in November, followed by the deaths in December and January of two former Heart Butte basketball players who were related to current players.

“There’s a lot of things that have brought us together to make us a little more tight knit,” Hall said. “It’s been a tough ride, to be honest, but we’ve all been there for each other, all been truly supporting one another when it comes to those downs.”

Olivia Davis-Hall was a matron and counselor at the De La Salle Blackfeet School, a boarding school in Browning.

“The reason why I coach is because of my mother,” Hall said. “She’s been a huge influence on me on why I wanted to help my community and help youth. I try to emulate her as much as I can.”

The Warriors take on Manhattan Christian (22-3) on Thursday night.

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