Connor Murgel

Connor Murgel

HELENA — The Helena High boys basketball team spent time not only cultivating their game this past season, but giving back to the community.

Throughout the season, the Bengals devoted their time to mentoring the Bryant Elementary children by reading to them, working on math skills and teaching them valuable lessons in the classroom.

The seven Bengals seniors on the team choose to give the money they receive from traditional "senior gifts" and fundraisers back to the school where they volunteered their time.

Conner Murgel, who signed to play with the University of Providence for the 2019-2020 season, stated in a press release "some things are bigger gifts," referring to the gratification he and his teammates received from volunteering their time.

"It was great to be involved in this activity in the community," Murgel told the "In order for us to be great people, we have to become great people on, and off the court. (Our team) had fun, and might have had even more fun than the little kids did. We just enjoyed interacting with them, and helping them out, and seeing smiles on their faces as well as our faces, and (our team) had a few laughs here, and there." 

On April 5 at a student assembly, the high school seniors announced the intention to donate $260 as Murgel told them "this is a thank you for letting us hang out with you, and we wanted to give you this gift."

Bengals coach Brandon Day expressed his satisfaction of his team donating time to the community.

"This group has gone way above and beyond the expectation," Day said. "I hope that classes below them see what it means to be a Bengal, and continue to pay it forward by helping future Bengals."

The Bengals had seven seniors and many of them will continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level. They have made a significant impact not only with Bengals athletics, but in and around the respective community, Day said.

"This is a wonderful group of young men," Day said. "It has been fun watching them interact with the Bryant kids. They are excellent role models for the Bryant kids."

Through the medium of athletics, the Bengals basketball team was a positive impact on the elementary school kids, Day said.

"They truly made a difference in those kids lives, and their donation shows what kind of athletes we are working with at Helena High," Day said. "I feel like, as coaches, we are the lucky ones in that we have had the opportunity to work with great kids."

Trish Klock, the principal of Bryant, admitted she was impressed with the Bengals.

"The money will be used throughout the school as deemed most necessary," Klock said. "For them to give up their gifts is just amazing."

Basketball hotbed

Capital basketball player Emily Kidder was a crucial component in guiding her team to a Western Class AA Divisional basketball title in their first year under Bruins head coach Katie Garcin-Forba.

Kidder, who led the team in the 3-point field goal percentage, signed to play for the Montana Tech on Wednesday.

Kidder was one of three Helena-area products to sign with colleges this week as Paige and Payton Aasved, two players who contributed to Helena's three consecutive state championships, also signed with the University of Providence.

Vanessa Walsh will also be added to the list when she signs with Montana Tech at 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. 

A basketball player signing to a college isn't a small feat. It is because of Helena's and Capital's reputations that are a draw to colleges from a conversation had with University of Providence women's basketball coach Bill Himmelberg.

Himmelberg and his coaching staff spend countless hours on the road during the year on recruiting trips, scouring for local talent in what is a year-round process.

He explained one of the primary reasons his program looks at Helena players is because of the solid reputation and programs they are coming from, essentially making it easier for Helena players to transition into collegiate athletics.

Academic achievement

The Capital boys basketball team continues to excel on and off the court, as the Bruins had the highest cumulative total grade-point average of any of the teams in Class AA.

Capital was given the MHSA/Army National Guard Academic All Team Award, which is given to the top varsity team that exhibits outstanding academic achievement during the school year's first quarter of play for that activity to each school's classification.

The Bruins finished with an average GPA of 3.662. They weren't the only Capital team showcasing academic excellence. The girls basketball team finished with an average GPA of 3.892, and the wrestling team had an average 3.183 GPA.

JHS's Stiles excels

Jefferson High track standout Avery Stiles became one of the biggest story lines of the 2018 MHSA Class B state track meet when he overcame an ACL-tear he experienced from football to have a successful rehab and to capture a  high jump state title, clearing a height of 6 feet, 6 inches.

This year, Stiles, who is now healthy, is already exceeding the state-winning height of last season. This season, Stiles has surpassed his height from last year, making him one of the heavy favorites to repeat in the high jump competition.

During the first meet of the year at the Choteau Acantha Invitational, Stiles levitated to a height of 6 feet, 8 inches, two inches higher than what gave him last year's state title.

Jason Blasco is the lead prep sports reporter for the Helena Indepedent-Record and a sports reporter for the network.

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