BILLINGS — Does anyone else feel like parts of history can be both near and far away at the same time?

When an astute reader pointed out to us that this was the 50th anniversary of the start of officially sanctioned girls basketball, I marveled that it was that long ago because it feels like that's how a number like 50 years should be felt. And yet, my own legacy reminded me that it actually may not be.

As a kid, like many others in Class C communities, playing basketball was simply what you did. So when the Heisey basketball signups came out, my third-grade teammates and I gave it a try. And while a couple of parents signed on to be our coaches, a multitude of siblings and family members tagged along with us as we navigated the season of practices and games.

I don’t know our record nor do I remember making my first basket. What I do remember from that season and the ones that followed, was that it was my mom who taught me how to shoot. Out on the concrete pad as the wind whipped around our garage and dust blew down the gravel driveway, I spent hours dribbling and shooting, running after the ricochets when the ball landed on mud clumps stuck to the concrete. And it was my mom’s voice I heard reminding me to always follow-through.

My dad taught me how to throw a baseball and about other sports, but basketball was all my mom. I only realized later that hadn't been the case for everyone.

While I looked around and saw a whole league of girls and the players at all levels of my K-12 school in Centerville, I also remember knowing pretty early that it hadn’t always an option for girls like me to play organized sports in school like the boys. I’d heard stories from my mom and one of my aunts about their own high school basketball careers at Helena High. And yet, they'd had an opportunity to play that hadn't been available to their eldest sister as the age gap between them straddled the line that marked the change.

I also now recognize milestones in the larger status of the sport that were part of my own experience. While in elementary school, I remember reading about a new professional women’s basketball league they were starting called the WNBA. I was brought back to that elementary school classroom when reading this year about how their 25th anniversary celebrations included Montana State coach Tricia Binford. I marveled that again, it was that long ago and yet didn't feel like it.

When I was in high school, the seasons were switched between fall and winter, bringing the girls basketball and volleyball seasons to their current configuration. It effectively put an end to my basketball career, uninspiring as it was, because I wanted to still be able to ski. So I decided to try volleyball, which would be in the fall moving forward instead.

I still remember hearing from the adults around us and the conversations among ourselves worried discussions about whether there would be enough gym times available to fit in all the boys and girls teams during the same season. I also recall concerns about whether it would effectively make the girls teams like JV squads, with the boys remaining the focus rather than the varsity squads they were. 

But change was coming like it always does and decisions needed to be made. It was relatively easy for me to make the decision to move on from my own basketball career. Ask any of my teammates, I wasn’t a star by any measure. But what I did love about the sport was the space it made for people to rally around and that it brought my community southeast of Great Falls together consistently.

So as the winter season got underway and I was approached by one of the coaches because they needed someone to take stats for varsity, I agreed. Even now, that feeling of walking in from a cold quiet parking lot to a warm gym filled with lights and sound that instantly warms you up makes me smile.

And while ultimately playing basketball wasn’t my passion, I’m grateful to those who played before me because I consider their opportunities on the court to have also allowed me opportunities off of it.

I realize that without those experiences, I probably wouldn’t be in this job today. Since I can count the number of women in sports journalism in our state regardless of outlet on one hand, we are still a small minority. But because I learned early on there could be space for me on the court, I found that there could also be space for more of us on the sidelines of it.

Last February, I was struck while watching the first state girls wrestling tournament by their joy about finally feeling like there was a place for them. At their best, I think that’s what sports can do for people.

In a roundabout way, that’s what adding girls basketball 50 years ago did for me.

Email Lindsay Rossmiller at or follow her on Twitter @LindsayRossmill.

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