Putting History on Display: Native Athletes Celebrated In Montana

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On Friday, 10 Native athletes were inducted into the Montana American Indian Hall of Fame. It marked the organization’s first induction ceremony since 2012. “So many of our tribal people are not recognized,” Don Wetzel Jr., told ICTMN. “We wanted to recognize that history.”

This year, the ceremony was held at Montana State University Northern in Havre, Montana. The honorees were: Rocky Mountain College basketball star Kenny Big Back of Colstrip; All-State and basketball pioneer Floyd Cross Guns, Sr., of Browning; all-around rodeo champion Bill Devereaux of Browning; Lady Griz basketball standout Tamara Guardipee of Browning; basketball legend Murray "Sticks" Harwood of Browning; back-to-back state basketball champion and 1974 State MVP Dana Kirn of Poplar; national high school saddle bronc champion Beau Michael of Browning; Montana Lady Griz basketball great LeAnn Montes of Box Elder; record-setting Oklahoma City University trackster Rick (Has The) Pipe of Harlem;basketball star Tom Yarlott of Lodge Grass.

The Browning "Runnin' Indian" cross country program received the Dynasty Award for 22 state boys' and eight state girls' championships, along with multiple records.

Wetzel ‘s father, Don Wetzel Sr., Blackfeet, the Cut Bank and University of Montana basketball star who became a coach, came up with the idea for a recognition ceremony back in 2007. The father-son team had held the induction ceremony annually, but have decided to cut back and have it every two years.

Wetzel also said that so many great athletes come out of Montana, but often times, in Indian Country, only their oral stories are shared. “We always hear these amazing things, and we want to document them,” he said. “I have the honor of calling these guys and getting their story.” In fact, in 2007, Wetzel spoke to, Louie Longee, Sioux, who was 90-years-old at the time and led the Poplar Indians to state Class C titles in 1933 and 1934. Right before he was inducted, “He said ‘I thought everybody forgot about me,’” Wetzel said.

When some of the honorees come to the induction ceremony they have not seen each other in 20 years. “There’s a lot of tears,” Wetzel said. “It’s the most positive thing I’ve ever been a part of.”