Reflections on a Season, a Virus, and the Future

A Column by Tony Smith

If we are to have any hope for the future, those who have lanterns must pass them on to others.”

Plato, Greek philosopher


Not that many might have noticed, this writer has been absent throughout the winter for the privilege of coaching the Troy Lady Trojan basketball team. Given the extreme circumstances of the past few months, as coaches we have been denied the opportunity to reward our players with a most deserved awards ceremony, generally held within a month of the conclusion of winter sports. Thus, with the permission of the Montanian, for whom I am eternally grateful for publishing a number of my articles throughout the past two years, I’d like to share some comments from an athletic and coaching perspective.

The Lady Trojans participate in District 7B, consisting of the following teams: Troy, St. Ignatius, Bigfork, Eureka, and Thompson Falls. In the 40-some years I’ve been associated with our programs in Troy, both boys and girls, rarely have I seen our girls District as tough as this season. Many of our opponents were  “senior heavy” this year, and the Lady Trojans, with little varsity experience, had difficulty “matching up”  against those very experienced teams. Furthermore, our Lincoln County non-conference friends were very athletic, and a coaching mismatch against Eureka’s Ryan Holder, and Libby’s Jackie DeShazer, both excellent coaches, was evident from the start. The Lady Trojans however, led by seniors Montana Rice, who averaged 12 rebounds a game, and Isabelle Ramirez, one of our best defenders, had many good moments, whether it be a “box and 1” defense against Noxon’s  best player and one of the leading scorers in her District, and who was held to 2 field goals in Troy, losing by 3 points against a team who had previously beaten the Lady Trojans by 28 points, to holding 6th-ranked Hot Springs to a season low 22 first -half points in their own gym. With one exception, the Lady Trojans played every team in their conference tougher the second time they met, and most of those games were on the road. Due to a lack of depth, the Lady Trojans were forced to bring several frosh girls up from our JV team for varsity minutes, a JV team that was very competitive against many of our opponents. Despite “robbing” our JV girls the opportunities for the potential victories they deserved, those varsity minutes from our freshman girls will pay huge dividends down the road, I’ve no doubt. The Lady Trojans return 3 starters, including one of their leading scorers (point guard Talise Becquart), and 2 excellent defenders in Emma Johnson and Riley Roeder, plus a boat load of younger players with varsity experience.

If one has been around sports for most of a lifetime, one would think you have “seen it all,” but once again an incident, seemingly timeless, played out with our Lady Trojans against St. Ignatius in the last game of the season, a “play-in” game for a spot at Divisional. With minutes left in the 4th quarter and the Lady Trojans down to St. Ignatius by 31 points, a “loose ball” situation occurred where a St. Ignatius girl and our senior captain, Isabelle Ramirez, sprinted 3/4 of the court, both heading for a collision with the bleachers and the wall.  It seemed as if time virtually stood still, eight other players breathlessly watching, the crowd virtually silent, as two girls without a concern for their physical well-being, hustled and expended all the energy left to them for possession of that ball. One must ask, what kind of a player down by 31 points in the 4th quarter is going to sacrifice herself for a loose ball with virtually nothing to gain? Shall we suggest personal pride to begin with? An opportunity to give ones “all” for her last game in a Lady Trojan uniform? Resilience, based on life experiences? It was truly an image and a memory that I shall treasure forever. If the spirit of “Izzy”Ramirez and the leadership of Montana Rice is the legacy passed down to our younger girls, Lady Trojan basketball has a bright future indeed.

I was blessed this past season in having a superb JV coach in Alanah Sternos. Alanah held us together throughout the tough times we experienced, as all teams do, but not every team has the moral compass, high expectations and relationship with the girls as a Coach Alanah. To be honest, I was desperately afraid that Coach Alanah was going to have her unborn on the spot during the Isabelle Ramirez episode (The referees said they had no child-delivering experience and were most terrified! “Not part of their job description,” they explained). Thankfully, the baby was patient and not unsettled in the least. Most recently, The Lady Trojans have added a wonderful new, healthy, boy- child as an assistant to our team.

Additionally, I wish to publicly thank the Libby referee pool for constantly adjusting their schedules to accommodate our games at THS. The pool is thin and the load carried by just a few, but those few are superb, and on behalf of both boys and girls programs, we so appreciate your dedication to our kids and the excellence of your service.

The world has been turned upside down these past months. Besides the horrendous loss of life and means of making a living, our kids have lost valuable classroom time and extracurricular activities that are so important to them. I have been most fortunate that Turning Winds Academic Institute in the Yaak has been open (we quarantine our kids for 14 days in a separate facility and have them tested before they enter the regular school population), and thus continue to build personal relationships with my students that are so vital for effective teaching. The “distance learning” mode is in no way shape or form as conducive to learning as the effectiveness and enjoyment of having our students in front of us on a daily basis. It is really why those of us who teach love teaching. I look so forward to participating with our kids again in the future, but only in the healthiest environment for them as possible.

Lady Trojans, Coach Alanah and I loved coaching you, and we miss you terribly; and to our seniors, Montana Rice and Isabelle Ramirez: Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You will be sorely missed!

-Coach Tony Smith