It’s been a while. Three years in fact, since Belfry High School had a basketball team all to itself. This year under the auspices of history teacher and coach Scott Felchle they’ve restarted a JV team consisting of six players including two 8th graders.
Belfry School Superintendent Jason Olson praised the basketball team for their hard work.
“They are doing amazingly well,” he said. “Some have been working since Junior High. They are an exceptional bunch of boys. I’m really proud of where they’ve come from. We even have a cheerleading team, our first in 6 years.”
Olson puts the resurgence down to a “sense of team work even on academic levels.”
“Build it on the court, get to know their strengths and weaknesses,” said Olson. “We’ve a new staff, new goals. We had no vision statement but the staff have come together.”
Olson talked about BATS (Building Academic Togetherness for Success.)
“It is a new program and I’m optimistic and excited to see what happens,” said Olson.
“It’s been an amazing school wide effort,” agreed Felchle. “Without the support and encouragement, this would not be possible. The excitement to have high school basketball is great. During our home games, we have had a great community turn out of support, and the buzz of basketball being back is great.”
Felchle got involved because he has always “really enjoyed basketball” and “has a passion for the sport.”
“I’ve been involved with basketball my whole life playing in elementary, jr. high, and high school. After college I began coaching boys and girls’ youth teams in Billings and I have been a Montana Basketball official for the past four years. So, when I first arrived at Belfry, discovering we didn’t have a high school team, I really wanted to do everything in my efforts to get this program going,” said Felche.
The team Felche has built up is made up of only 6 players, two of them 8th graders, some are still learning the fundamentals of the game. The game plan therefore requires discipline and patience. “Inexperience was our greatest challenge. Some of the players have never played basketball which was difficult,” he said. “But, I have a lot of respect for the kids that gave it a try even though they had never played or touched a basketball before.”
He recalls that for some, “Just being out on the court with the other boys, was a big step.”
Other difficulties from having a small team are practice scrimmages and substitutions.
“But being able to play at a high level, against kids that have been playing together since they were little, has brought a lot of team chemistry and leadership together for Belfry,” said Felche. “We did a lot of one-on-one drills during practices which incorporated fundamental skills that help with lifelong goals.”
To get there where they want to be is going to take “Practice, Practice, Practice,” said Felche.
“Summer camps are always being offered. A lot of it also has to be the responsible of the player to go out on their own during the summer and practice on their own. As basketball continues at Belfry, we will start to see players developing from year to year,” he believes.
Over the course of the season Felche has seen a marked improvement.
“Every single game I saw a vast improvement of skills, team play, and encouragement among the players. The players may have not noticed it, but it is definitely been a major change from the beginning of the season. It was not all about wins for us this year. We made great improvements in practice as well as during games,” he said. “When we beat Bridger, every kid stepped up in a big way that helped the team to victory.”
One of the team members the other kids look up to is Chris Moore.
“Chris Moore is a very athletic kid. The entire team looks up to Chris because he understands the game well, however, he still was improving on his fundamental skills, along with the team,” said Felche. “When he moved into Belfry last year, he found out that we had enough to field a basketball team. This brought excitement to him because he loves the game.”
What is even more of an achievement about the team is their desire. The Belfry Bats will play about ten to fifteen games this season in what is a very, very sporadic schedule that would try the patience of a Saint. It could have affected morale, their mental and physical strength but it hasn’t, making them only more determined to get out there and play.
“At one point we practiced for 2-3 straight weeks, it seemed, without a game. The players would always come in my room, asking me, “Coach why are we not playing games?” I had to explain to them the difficult part was getting games scheduled since Belfry hadn’t had basketball for approximately 5 years,” recalled Felche. “Maybe some teams were leery about playing Belfry or coming out to play a game in Belfry? I think it was more frustrating for the players because all they wanted to do is get out in the gym, play hard, and have fun! It was difficult because we did not have a Varsity schedule; therefore, we were playing another team’s conference schedule that was unable to play a JV Schedule.”
Now the Belfry High School has a basketball team back, the town says Felche is “Extremely excited.”
“There has been an amazing amount of excitement and encouragement. The community really enjoyed every minute and loved the buzz around the community, especially when we beat our arch rival, the Bridger Scouts in our home gym,” said Felche. “I believe it had been a while since we beat Bridger in our gym. After visiting with other coaches, administration, officials outside of Belfry, other teams and towns around our conference are excited and been mentioning they are excited to see Belfry back and playing. It’s a great opportunity for the boys.”
As to the future?
“It’s promising and hopeful. The students, teachers, faculty, staff, and community, know that Belfry Bats are back on the map for sports, and it’s great to hear other towns excited to play Belfry again,” said Felche. “Being able to play a Varsity schedule in the near future, it’s exciting for the players. They can’t wait to get back on the court to play next season. They are already talking about wanting to play for years to come.”
As a side note, the new spirit has also driven a revival of the cheerleading team, now in its second year under Christi Kohley.
“I have plenty of recruits. It is fun have K through 12. Grades 4th to 12 usually cheer for the JV team. Kindergarten through 3rd cheer for junior high games,” she said.
“They’ve improved from level 1 to level 4 or 5. It’s awesome, they’ve improved so much,” she said.