50 Years Ago Wolf Point Wins Big 32!
Golden anniversary of Wolf Point’s ‘Golden Age’ title
It’s been 50 years and I can still rattle off the names of the starting five … Willie and John Weeks, Steve Dethman, Harvey Langager and my cousin Bruce Erickson.
Trust me, I’m not the only one that grew up in northeastern Montana that can tell you who was on that Wolf Point boys basketball championship team of 1968. I call it the “Golden Age of Montana Basketball” because for a six-season span from 1964 to 1969, the state’s Class AA and Class A schools were combined into one incredibly competitive division called the Big 32.
Three times in those unique six seasons, Class A schools won the Big 32 championship. In 1966, Marc Racicot led Libby to the title. In 1969, it was the Laurel Locomotives led by Alan Campbell.
And in between — 1968 — the Wolf Point Wolves took home the championship.
What does my cousin Bruce remember about that magical season 50 years ago?
“Number one, we did not have a gym,” he recalled. “We had to travel to Poplar in 30-below weather to practice three times a week, plus play all of our home games in Poplar.”
A year earlier, Bruce and the Wolves were in Miles City for the divisional tournament when they heard the news that Wolf Point High School had burned down.
The undisputed star of the 1967-68 Wolf Point team was 6-foot-4 scoring machine Willie Weeks.
“Willie was without question the best Native American basketball player to ever play the game, and probably the best there ever will be,” said Bruce.
As for myself, I was too young to remember seeing Willie play in high school, but I will never forget years later seeing him in the famed Western Invitational Tournament (WIT) in Lewistown. I remember seeing Willie play in one of those late, late games at the Lewistown Civic Center — I think the game tipped off after midnight.
Willie had on big, bulky knee braces and seemingly could barely walk … but he could still shoot. He’d take two or three strides across the half-court line and launch. And hit nothing but net. He scored 40-plus points and I remember sitting there thinking this guy is one of the greatest players I will ever see!
Bruce recalled that the Wolves, who were coached by Ron Harcharik, did not play a lot of defense but could score at will.
The Wolves matched up with Great Falls High in the semifinals of the Big 32 state tournament, a game that many considered the real championship game. Wolf Point prevailed 82-79 in two overtimes — overcoming an amazing 49-point effort by Great Falls star Ray Howard.
My cousin Bruce was not in the gym for the end of that game, as he was sent to the hospital after a nasty collision with Howard while battling for a rebound. The next night, though, Bruce was back on the court for the title game.
Wolf Point handled Kalispell 71-55 in the championship game, as 6-foot-9 John Weeks led the Wolves with 18 points.
Bruce Erickson left the cold winters of the Hi-Line to play college basketball at Biola in southern California, and he still calls Fullerton home.
In my opinion, if today’s Class AA and A ranks were combined as they were back in the “Golden Age,” the divisional and state tournaments would be better-attended than any other tourneys in the state. Just think of this year’s current No. 1-ranked teams Great Falls CMR and Hamilton squaring off. Or how about a Billings Skyview-Billings Central divisional showdown?
It’s a lot of fun to think about, just like those Wolf Point Wolves of 50 years ago!
Northern Sports Network
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