BILLINGS — The cornerstone imbedded on the northeast corner of Billings Central Catholic High School reads “1947.” Whether that also signifies the year the school’s gymnasium floor originated, Principal Shel Hanser isn’t exactly sure. He believes it is, but don’t quote him on that.
We do know that the gymnasium floor — however old it is — at the Ralph Nelles Activities Center has seen better days. Hanser can point out “a hundred or so” areas where the floor can’t be stripped and re-waxed anymore, so it’s time is done.
How fitting for the second-ranked Rams, then, that they went out 54-39 winners over their arch rivals from Laurel, a regular-season ending win Friday night that also signified the end of this particular floor.
On the first day after the 2018-19 school year, work will begin on tearing out the old boards and installing a new ones, with a design to be determined.
“It’s seen a lot, seen a lot,” Hanser said after Central’s win, but before Rams’ players gathered to sign their names on center court. “My uncle Bill was part of the very first class. I don’t know necessarily if the gym was here at that time or if there was an addition after that. But it could have been. There was basketball then, so I’m sure it was a part of it.”
Seth Sasich, a senior, was one of the first players to put his signature on the floor. Other players traced their hands or shoes in the center of the court insignia, which features the Rams logo in green.
“It’s bittersweet,” Sasich said. “Not only our last game on this court, but this court specifically. It’s pretty cool to be the last ones to play on it. I’ve been coming to watch games here since … I can’t even remember. I remember watching players like Ryan Burke when I was little and wanting to play on this floor Friday and Saturday nights just like they were.”
Sasich hit three 3-pointers to lead the Rams with nine points. Chrishon Dixon also had nine points, while Niki Krause, Sam Gray and Joe Byorth all added eight.
For Dixon, the end of the era had additional meaning. He scored the majority of his points in the Central gym and last weekend became a 1,000-point scorer for his career. Billings Central officials are still digging, but so far they believe Dixon is just the second Ram to surpass the milestone behind Steven Falls Down, who played at Central in the early 90s.
“Basically, we became men on this floor,” Dixon said. “We were trying to get us the new floor last year so we could be the ones to open it. But it’s a great feeling to end it with a W.”
Laurel’s Wylee Schnetter led all scorers with 17 points. The Locomotives (12-6, 6-4) tried to hang with the Rams in the first half, but were undone by a 9-0 Central run to start the third quarter. The Rams (18-2, 9-1) led by 20 to start the fourth.
Both teams turn their attention now to the Eastern Divisional, which begins Wednesday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. For now, though, the Rams are intent to leave their mark on their home floor.
“These seniors have been the ultimate senior class,” said Central coach Jim Stergar, who is in his seventh season as a head coach after assisting Hanser for one. “I appreciate everything they’ve done, and this floor right here is pretty sentimental to the entire Central Catholic community. For these guys to be able to play on it the very last game, it’s kind of an honor. It’s a special place.”