BUTTE — On the evening of January 11, the Butte Civic Center will once again play host to the annual Butte Central vs. Butte High basketball game.
The City Championship will be on the line and for both teams, it’s hardly ‘just another game’ as much as they might want to tell themselves that. The Maroons and Bulldogs split the doubleheader last year with the Butte High boys coming out on top, while the Central girls took the other game of the series.
More than anything, however, this game has tremendous meaning to not only the teams playing, but the community as well.
To borrow a term from the Southeastern Conference, ‘It just means more.’
“It’s the hardest game you can coach,” Butte Central girls’ head coach Meg Murphy said. “You have no control over it.
“You can prepare them however you want, but that doesn’t necessarily make a difference.”
That said, the Butte Central girls had little issue with Butte High last season, winning 57-32. It was the largest margin of victory in the rivalry between the two teams.
The Maroon boys lost by 10 points and their grinding and efficient play style should match up well with a scrappy Bulldog team that is proud and plays hard.
Butte Central boys' head coach Brodie Kelly has played in three of the crosstown games and has coached 15 others.
"The losing hurts more than the winning feels good," Kelly said. "Players individually kind of learn from that game, there’s no magic formula to say 'hey this is how you play with pressure.'”
It’s a heated rivalry for sure, but a respectful one all the same. Players on both teams know each other and many are even friends.
It just makes the competition even better.
“It’s the one time a year that you come out and it’s a great battle whether you’re 5-1 or 2-4,” Murphy said. “Throw the records out, throw everything out with that game.”
Holding the game at the Civic Center gives the game a great vibe and certainly is circled on a great many calendars across Silver Bow County.
More than anything else, however, it’s a celebration of the rich sporting culture in Butte. Both teams have had runs of success throughout their storied years and each time they pick up the ball to renew the rivalry, the spark continues to burn.
Kids watching the game from the stands dream about one day playing in the game. Parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins probably have a little time to remember what it was like when they were in high school and got to participate in playing or cheering along their classmates.
Community members and local businesses are certainly around as well, helping the strong traditions of Butte and Butte Central move forward.
School spirit runs in the blood of this town — or, at least, on the window or bumper or the license plate of a car. Maybe it’s on a Maroons shirt or a Bulldogs cap. Maybe it’s a framed diploma or a picture of a team from their high school years.
But, somehow, someway, just about everyone in the Civic Center on a cold January night is going to care about this game, the City Championship.
It’s a special time and a special rivalry in a special place.
It’s Butte, Montana.
Editors note: This story was updated to clarify Brodie Kelly is the head boys basketball coach at Butte Central, not Butte High.