Subscribe for 17¢ / day
Bozeman logo

Bozeman logo

Bozeman is the elephant in the room when it comes to Montana high school athletics.

With an enrollment of roughly 2,000, The Bozone's only prep institution is nearly twice the size of Missoula's three Class AA representatives. You don't have to be Albert Einstein to figure out that helps a great deal in sports like football and track.

Bozeman wins state championships with amazing regularity and success has bred more success. In their defense and to their credit, the Hawks' football accomplishments are about more than numbers. There's a culture of winning.

The impressive part from this Missoula transplant's perspective is that opponents rarely seem to complain. It's one of the terrific things I've found in nine years of Treasure State living -- folks in these parts aren't much for whining when it comes to high school sports.

The good news is the stacked deck may not be stacked much longer. An advisory committee appointed by the Bozeman School Board and made up of parents, teachers, administrators, community members and students voted recently to recommend building a second high school. They spent six months looking into it.

The board discussed the matter last Monday and will do so again in a special gathering on the last day of the month. With any luck, the board will accept the recommendation in June and a bond issue will go on the ballot in 2017.

It seems more a question of when than if, although there is always the chance naysayers will delay the process.

Montana's largest high school sports classification still won't be close to even if Bozeman doubles up. Billings West has an enrollment of roughly 1,800 and the Golden Bears will continue to live large (they have at least 700 students more than Missoula Big Sky with its 1,045).

Still, if The Bozone goes to two high schools, it will close the competitive gap and impact all of Class AA in a potentially great way.

Some of you may recall back in the 1980s when Libby, Anaconda and Havre were in AA and the Treasure State had two eight-team divisions for its largest class. In basketball there were two all-inclusive divisional tournaments at the end of the regular season and teams converged on one site -- like the Adams Center, for example -- for what amounted to a celebration of the season with great fan support.

These days it's a lot different with 14 Class AA schools. There are no all-inclusive divisionals. In basketball and soccer, for example, the top two finishers on each side of Montana receive free passes to state and the other teams battle for berths at the site of the team with the better record.

Consequently, the worst of the basketball and soccer teams never have a chance to experience big-time tournament electricity. The kind that is conducive to upsets and makes a kid want to work harder to get better.

Adding a second school in Bozeman would pull Class AA a big step closer to returning to two eight-team divisions. Adding yet another school like, say, Belgrade -- which is big enough to be in Class AA -- would complete the deal.

An additional high school in Bozeman would make the quality of the prep experience infinitely better for those who proudly call themselves Hawks. And we're not just talking opportunities to make a mark in sports or drama or clubs or debate. We're talking smaller class sizes.

Kalispell became a two-AA-school town when it added Glacier High nine years ago. There were those who feared it would mark the end of the town's proud large-school football tradition.

It didn't. Former Montana Grizzly Grady Bennett built the Wolfpack from the ground up and turned Glacier into a perennial AA football power.

In the end, it's not just about sports. It's about teenagers and opportunity. Preventing kids from having too much time of their hands to make bad decisions.

For Bozeman to continue to stand pat while its one high school grows larger makes no sense from the perspective of this state's most precious commodity.

Bozeman will do the right thing and the state will be better for it.

Missoulian columnist Bill Speltz may be reached at 523-5255 or at

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.