DRUMMOND — The news and the rumors it spawned hit this town like a thunderbolt Tuesday and spread across state lines.
Some 160 athletic trophies that were once displayed in the lobby of the high school gym have been dismantled, seemingly under a cloak of secrecy, and their wood bases taken to the shop class to cut up for school projects.
“Is this a joke?” a 1970 alum wondered on a community Facebook page.
“My daughter called me this morning from Corvallis, Oregon, just crying. ‘How can they possibly do this?' ” said Rick Lacey, a 1964 Drummond High graduate whose three daughters played basketball for Hall of Fame coach Mike Bradshaw.
The affected trophies had accumulated since 1980, when wall trophies replaced those of the standup variety. Drummond’s had been in storage since the spring of 2016 while a defect in the floor of the gym lobby was repaired.
It was a good time to address a growing space issue for trophy display, school superintendent Bryan Kott said Wednesday.
“We have a problem, which is a good problem that not many schools have,” Kott said. “We are running out of room to put the trophies up.”
The Montana High School Association awards trophies for top-three finishes in district, divisional and state events. Kott said many of the third-place wall awards for boys’ and girls’ track, boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball and wrestling were already boxed for lack of space when he arrived in Drummond in 2013. Others were rotated on and off the wall. Those earned before 1980, including for the school’s lone boys’ state basketball championship in 1957, remain on display in the separate high school building.
Kott said social media rumors that all the trophies have been destroyed weren't true.
“Name plaques were pulled off to use to alternatively display them,” Kott said. “We had an idea to start, but it didn’t look the way we wanted it to. So now we’re drawing up plans to redo the whole wall.”
After the furor arose, Kott directed that the wooden bases destined for repurposing in the school shop be saved. About 90 percent of them had yet to be cut up, he said, but he didn't know what will be done with them.
“Maybe they can put some of them back together,” Bradshaw suggested.
Bradshaw was the winningest coach in Montana girls’ basketball history when he retired in 2014 after 36 seasons. He counts 47 trophies that his teams collected, 28 of them for district, divisional and state Class C titles. Track and field teams under Don Anderson and Tim Anderson (no relation) accounted for the bulk of the rest.
The 1992 girls' basketball state championship trophy remains intact, as do others representing Montana state titles since 1980: five in football from 2003 to 2009 under another Montana Hall of Fame coach, Jim Oberweiser, and the 2005 Class C boys’ track and field title under Tim Anderson.
Like Bradshaw, both Oberweiser and Anderson have retired from coaching but remain teachers at the school. Oberweiser stepped down this year as the winningest Class C 8-man head coach in Montana history.
Bradshaw was clearly frustrated Tuesday night. He said he’d talked to a school board member earlier in the days who was in tears.
His voice cracked when he recounted the shock of learning about the dismantled trophies when he came to school Monday.
Kott had talked to him in the spring about the need to do something about the trophies, but Bradshaw said he didn’t hear a word about it after that.
“I was always hoping maybe a meeting to kind of talk about it,” he said. “That was the tough part of it, when you didn’t know a thing. If they would have come to me and said they’re going to destroy them, we’d have put the skids to it.
“The one thing that I just cannot buy is that it was not even a choice what happened,” Bradshaw added. “He (Kott) can say there’s no room, we just have too much stuff, but so what? You don’t destroy stuff because there’s no room. We could find a solution.”
Kott said the school board knew about the plan to dismantle the trophies, but didn’t take a formal position.
“It was just a go-ahead to get going on it,” the superintendent said, adding that he faces another wall space problem.
There’s no room in the high school for the 2017 graduating class picture, in a string that started in the early 1930s.
Drummond is far from the only school to face such trophy wall conundrums.
“We have the same problem,” Charlo superintendent Steve Love said. “We have trophies in boxes, and we’ve rearranged a couple of different times trying to decide what to put up and what not to put up.”
People who played on football teams from back in the 1950s and ‘60s look for their trophies when they visit the school, said Love.
“We’re actually working on the last couple of years of class pictures getting printed and posted. We were looking last week and said, crap, where are we going to put them?”
Jerry Reisig is in his third year as activities director at Bozeman High, the state’s largest school.
Trophies are on display in hallways, on beams and in storage rooms where no one ever sees them, he said.
“We had so many trophies from back in the early ‘60s and even the ‘50s that we finally had to get rid of them,” he said. “When I got here a lot of them were in a big box in a garage, and they were just taking up space. We took them apart and tossed them.”
Some schools have digitized their trophies and created a user-friendly screen display in the gym lobby.
“I hadn’t heard of that, but it sounds like a good idea,” Reisig said. “We might have to go to that eventually.”
Digitization is not a viable solution for smoothing feathers in Drummond right now, though Kott said it’s been discussed as an option for displaying track and field record boards that are now on the wall.
Because the issue was so new, it was not on the agenda for the school board’s monthly meeting Monday night, although Bradshaw and his former longtime assistant, Pete DesRosier, brought it up during the public comment period. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Nov. 13, but Kott said a special board meeting is in the works to let the community weigh in.
Kott was a 1998 graduate of Bozeman High, where he played football and participated in track. He attended Montana State-Northern and got his first teaching and coaching job in Kansas in 2004 before returning to Montana in 2009 as superintendent of Lame Deer Public Schools.
He called the trophy display dilemma a “battle of space,” and said he’s trying to find a fair way to honor all of Drummond’s trophy-winning teams “to where it also looks nice and professional and is visually appealing.”
That includes making room for the culinary and Formula 1 state championship trophies school teams earned earlier this year, as well as the pre-1980 trophies over in the high school building.
“The biggest part is we’re trying to figure out how to respectfully display all the accomplishments of the community without leaving anybody out,” he said. “There was no intention to do this in any disrespectful way.”
To many in Drummond, however, it came across as just that.
“I think the community has to get an answer for this,” Lacey said. “It’s a stunning revelation.”
“It’s just an unthinkable act,” said Bradshaw. “It’s tough when you put so much time and effort into it. I guess you take it real personal.”