BILLINGS — Tony Trudnowski’s love of basketball is so vast, he just wants to share it.
So when the Laurel boys basketball position came open, Trudnowski had to give it a shot.
It was Trudnowski’s overt enthusiasm for the sport that won over Laurel’s incoming athletic director Dom Vergara, and after Vergara recommended Trudnowski for the opening the Laurel school board gave its approval late last week.
“The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is getting into the gym with the kids,” said Trudnowski, who is 34 years old. “All this begins with my love for the game itself. It was an outlet for me as a kid and it’s an environment that I really like.”
A Butte native, Trudnowski comes from a basketball family. His father, Dan, played basketball at Montana Tech and grandfather Jim had several coaching stops in Montana, including Anaconda Central and Carroll College.
Trudnowski played at Butte High and, like his father, Montana Tech. He takes over for Paul Barta, the former longtime Columbus coach who spent last season with the Locomotives. After one year in Laurel, Barta’s contract was not renewed in the spring despite a recommendation for renewal from outgoing athletic director Roger Heimbigner, who retired at the end of the most recent school year.
Vergara’s duties don’t officially begin until July, but he was eager to hit the ground running at Laurel, and that included interviewing prospective candidates for the basketball job.
Vergara said he and Trudnowski quickly found common ground on philosophies and goals.
“I think it’s bigger than just wins and losses with Tony,” Vergara said. “He mentioned it numerous times in his interview and he uses that as a tool to build skills and develop a foundation for the rest of (his players’) lives and I love that.”
Both newcomers — Vergara and Trudnowski — have taken circuitous routes to get to Laurel.
Vergara is a native of Greeley, Colorado, and was an assistant football and track coach at Thompson Falls in 2008-09. From there he moved on to Montana State Billings (adjunct professor), Rocky Mountain College (admissions counselor), athletic director at Custer High School, assistant principal and AD at Elder Grove in Billings, and AD and transportation director at Custer County High School in Miles City.
Most recently, Vergara was a marketing and planning advisor at Schwan Financial Group in Aberdeen, South Dakota. But now, Vergara, who will be 35 in August, finds himself back in the high school arena.
After graduating from Tech in 2009 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Trudnowski spent two seasons as a volunteer assistant at Rocky Mountain College. From there he got an engineering job in Indiana and helped out with the Harrison High School program in West Lafayette and then, upon getting an engineering job in Billings, returned to RMC and was an assistant under Bill Dreikosen last season.
Trudnowski and his wife, Janessa, a former standout at Denton who also played at Tech, have four children, with a fifth on the way.
Through his time at Rocky and from watching Butte Central play during his younger days in the Mining City, Trudnowski said he’s plenty familiar with Class A basketball.
“It’s very competitive,” said Trudnowski, who will be the third coach in three seasons for the Locomotives, following Pat Hansen and Barta. “It’s got good parity. From a basketball standpoint, you get a lot of variety in terms of styles. There are some teams that play really fast, some teams that play really slow, some teams that zone, some teams that man, so you kind of see a little bit of everything. So I view it as a high high school level, pretty competitive, and I’m excited.
“Champing at the bit.”