Good thing they have these things.
A handful of men in their late 60s were standing around chatting Friday at the DoubleTree Hotel after the annual Golden M Club luncheon about one of the last football games for the Missoula County High School Spartans.
It was the fall of 1964 and Coach Joe Roberts’ boys needed to beat Great Falls High to wrap up second place in Class AA.
“It was a game we probably shouldn’t have won,” said Mike Wood of Kalispell, a lineman who was also sports editor of the school newspaper, the Konah. “Great Falls High was probably the toughest team. I know it was the toughest guy I ever blocked.”
As Wood recalled, MCHS was down either 19-13 or 18-13 with 19 seconds left when quarterback Danny McElwain faded back to pass.
“(Bob) Seim goes long into the end zone and pulls down the catch, with probably three defenders on him,” Wood said.
“What you don’t remember about that,” said McElwain, who was standing nearby, “is it was a trick play, and (Gary) Siegford actually ended up throwing the pass. I’d been bootlegging all day and they were reading me, so instead of keeping it I handed it off.”
“Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh,” Wood laughed, disabused of a story he’d no doubt shared dozens of times over the past half century whenever old Spartans gathered.
McElwain is the older brother of another former Missoula quarterback. He said little brother Jim made it back to Montana for three weeks this summer before hightailing back to Florida, where he’s first-year head football coach of the Florida Gators.
The older McElwain drove from Spokane for the luncheon and his 50th high school class reunion. He was joined by Wood, Seim, Siegford and 16 others from the MCHS class of 1965 at Friday’s noon event, the last of its kind. They became the final new members of the Golden M Club, which for years has been adding MCHS letter winners from 50 years earlier.
There are no more to add. Beginning with the 1965-66 school year, Missoula had two AA schools – Sentinel and Hellgate – with different names, different mascots and rival varsity sports teams.
“We kicked around bringing in Hellgate and Sentinel and Big Sky to the club, but that got to be such a big number," said Bob Whaley from the class of ’54 and one of the local organizers. “We’ve got enough trouble just getting our guys from Missoula County High School.”
That said, it’s likely the annual Golden M Club luncheons will continue.
“It’s something that’s going to have to be worked out, but there’s a lot of enthusiasm to continue on,” said Al “Babe” Bellusci, another organizer who played halfback on state championship football teams in 1943, 1944 and 1945. “Just experiencing the appreciation of everybody today, I think it’d be great to keep it going.”
The tradition started decades ago when John T. Campbell and Don Gray organized the Silver M Club, for letter winners of at least 25 years earlier. In 1986, it became the Golden M Club. Some 70 men and a sprinkling of women showed up for this one, including Chuck Zadra of Missoula, who went on to a career in education after graduating from MCHS in 1938.
Armen Weishaar was there from Spokane. For the past 13 years he’s organized annual mini-reunions for his Missoula class of 1953, first in Spokane before those gatherings got too large. Now they’re held in conjunction with the Golden M Club gatherings in Missoula. Weishaar expected as many as 50 people to show up for this year’s on Friday evening at the Broadway Inn.
“That’s not bad – 1953 was a pretty long time ago,” he noted.
Missoula attorney Tom Boone, class of ’58, gave the luncheon address. He invoked the names of coaches Hal Sherbeck, Jug Beck and Lou Rocheleau, from an era when staffs were small and men coached every sport.
Rocheleau, who died in 1979, was noted as a basketball coach. But he was remembered challenging the track team’s top hurdlers to races and sitting next to Beck at wrestling matches and exhorting Spartan grapplers.
Sherbeck, who passed away last year, went on to coach at the University of Montana and for 30 years at the junior college level in California. His record of 241-70-8 at Fullerton College was the best in community college history at the time of his retirement in 1991. Seim told the luncheon crowd that the school plans a celebration of Sherbeck’s life and a sculpture dedication on Aug. 29 in Fullerton.
“I’d like you to remember the coaches and what they did, as well as the players you played with,” Boone said.
As it goes at these gatherings, those names spawned stories, which spawned more stories.
“The older I get, the better I used to be,” quipped Bob Vick of Polson and the class of ’63, who preceded Dan McElwain as the Spartans’ quarterback and later married McElwain's sister, Marsha.
Tim Aldrich, a standout prep athlete who went on to play basketball for the Grizzlies in the early 1960s, was master of ceremonies. He had some heartfelt closing remarks prepared, but didn’t get a chance to share them as the affair broke into knots of story sharers.
He's been at the forefront of the conservation movement in western Montana for much of his life.
“I grew up two blocks from Victory Field (in the University District) where these kids all practiced, and I’d always be walking to Bonner Park, so athletics became a part of my life very early,” Aldrich said. “I was just going to talk about the influences I felt they had in shaping me as the person I wanted to be and the person I was. They taught me about hard work and the cost of success.”
Bellusci, who played high school football for another fondly remembered coach, Eddie Chinske, said he’d hate to see the Golden M Club go away.
“The value in my mind is more people getting together, seeing old friends, old teammates, and just rehashing old times,” he said. “And I think part of it is to maintain an enthusiasm for the sports in Missoula.”