“All history becomes subjective; in other words there is properly no history, only biography.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: “History”
In the winter of 1958, the Belgrade Panthers defeated the Troy Trojans 65-64 in the Class “C” State Championship game held at Helena High School. Gale Weidner, the focus of this column, led Troy in scoring with 20 points, followed by Don Morrison’s 18 points, and Bill Winslow with 17 points. In a delicious twist of fate, some forty-six years later (2004), Bill’s son, Wally Winslow, would lead the Libby Loggers to the Class “A” State Championship by defeating the Belgrade Panthers 96-89 in 3 OT’s- on the Panthers home court no less- in one of the greatest championship games in Montana history.
Writing about history and historical events is often a risky proposition, one rarely presented without bias to some extent, even in the face of “conclusive” evidence presented by a number of sources and confirmed by the most respected historians. The “legend” of Troy’s Gale Weidner, who many consider to be one of the most physically gifted athletes ever to emerge from Lincoln County, as well as the state of Montana, is a riveting story, unfortunately one lost over the years- a story that would have, in time, been brought to the attention of the reader, but appearing to be “out of sequence” compared to the other columns presented over the past few months. However, some stories, as in this case, are so gripping that the writer cannot find an escape from the telling of it-one based upon verifiable historical facts, and relevant at this particular moment in time when we are in the midst of the football “bowl season.”
Gale Weidner was a 3-sport athlete at THS from 1954-1958, excelling in football, basketball, and track and field. He was awarded a full-ride scholarship to the University of Colorado, and was the starting quarterback for the Colorado Buffaloes throughout their “magical” 1961 season. The Buffaloes hadn’t defeated the Oklahoma Sooners in football since 1913, but did so, 22-14, in Norman, Oklahoma with Weidner at quarterback. In a game against Nebraska, held in Lincoln, Weidner’s quarterback “sneak” provided a 7-0 victory, a game in which Nebraska gained neither a first down nor completed a pass. Trailing 0-19 against Kansas entering the 4th quarter, a team led by future NFL professional quarterback John Hadl, who went to 2 Pro-Bowls, was a 4-time AFC All-Star, and who played 15 seasons for the San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Rams, Weidner, in front of 42,700 fans in Boulder, threw 3 touchdown passes, leading Colorado to a 20-19 victory. Ranked 7th in the nation by season’s end, the Buffaloes were invited to play in Miami’s “Orange Bowl,” and on January 1, 1962, in front of 62,391 people, were defeated by LSU 25-7.
Miami in 1961: A segregated city
However, a larger story “within this story” unfolded prior to the “Orange Bowl.” The city of Miami insisted that the Buffaloes segregate 5 players of “color,” instructing them to find separate accommodations upon arrival for the game. As a team, the Colorado Buffaloes informed both the city of Miami and “Orange Bowl” officials that they would refuse to play if all players were not allowed to stay together, thus “forcing the hand” of such segregationists policies. The game itself, one watched by millions, including our family and surely all of Troy, was lost, in part, due to poor punt coverage by Colorado on several occasions, but the courageous message and ethical loyalty to their black teammates shown by the Colorado players played an important role in the Civil Rights unrest of that time period. Surely, Gale Weidner was as proud of that momentous decision as he was for his own personal exploits, if not prouder!
Weidner was chosen by the Denver Broncos as the 74th player taken overall in the 1961 draft, and was later, in 1962, drafted by the Green Bay Packers. It is possible that his NFL career was shortened by injury, or Gale chose to pursue his career in real estate (common at the time since NFL salaries were not as “outrageously inflated” as they are today). In short, Gale Weidner was a magnificent athlete, one who played on the highest national stage, and deserves the “legendary” status applied to him.
Gale Weidner 1961 Nu-Card #168
As a note of further interest, one may find on eBay a variety of 1961 Nu-Cards of Gale Weidner, numbered #168, with the “classic” card priced at $26.09. Those who love Troy Trojan history would be well-served to do so.
The last column of this particular series will cover the most memorable years of my teaching career at Troy High School, approximating 38 years (1977-2015), only two decades from residing at THS for one-half of its history. My own teaching experiences and contributions throughout that time period are of little consequence-that is for history to decide-but the superb staff and student accomplishments throughout those years are truly remarkable, and this writer would be remiss in not bringing those accomplishments to light.
“Follow Up” from the previous column regarding Dale Sheppard
Before becoming a County employee and eventual Road Foreman, Dale Byrer, my “Moccasin cousin,” worked with Dale Sheppard at Cabinet View Golf Club for approximately three summers, confirming the kindness and graciousness of this hardworking and greatly appreciated employee. On several occasions, Dale Byrer and family were invited to partake of apples grown by Dale Sheppard, and explore his vast horticultural talents demonstrated on the River Road homestead.
Dale Sheppard’s greatest fear was that his beautiful Kootenai River abode would eventually be “developed” upon his passing, but due to legal efforts and kindness on the part of the Libby/Troy communities, not only does his Cabinet View legacy remain intact, so does his estate, one that was his “soul mate” for life, and one that has remained preserved for the enjoyment of the public. We are forever indebted to the efforts of Dale Sheppard, and with much gratitude do I express, on behalf of all of us who knew him, memories of this very special man.
“People tend to forget that the word “History” contains the word “Story.”
Ken Burns, historical film producer
Tony Smith has been a longtime member of the Libby and Troy communities. He is a teacher, a coach, and a friend to many.