Looking back 40 years

Reflections on Fergus High 1979 basketball championships
Senior Reporter
Friday, December 27, 2019
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(Back row, from left) Manager Kelly Mantooth, Colin McRae, Scott Donisthorpe, Ken Koncilya, Mac Johnson, Grady Trogstad, Allen Powell, Dave Rageth, Jess Knerr, Ron Osborne, Craig Aasved, (middle row, from left), Hal Bourke, John Bohyer, Kurt Schultz, Steve Diekman, (front row, from left) Cheri Wicks, Corrie Miller, Vicki Koetitz, Lori Phillips and Barb Brudnicki.

News-Argus file photo

Rolling into a new year often serves as a time to look back.

For Fergus basketball fans, 2019 was also a time to pay tribute to the 40th anniversary of the Golden Eagles men and women’s basketball teams that flew all the way to the top.

It was Saturday, March 10, 1979. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was climbing the charts, and the Golden Eagles were climbing the standings. They made their way to Billings for the state tournament, where they dominated. Led by Ron Osborne’s 21 points, the Fergus Golden Eagle boys defeated the Red Devils of Glendive 65-55 to win their first (and only) state basketball championship.

Dave Byerly wrote it best in the March 14, 1979 issue of the News-Argus: “Montana has a new state bird.”

“All season long the Fergus High School basketball team has known that, when the smoke had cleared and the cheering had ended, the Golden Eagle would be on top the state Class A basketball scene,” Byerly continued. “Saturday night they made believers of the rest of the state.”

Fergus Coach Lynn Mavencamp said such a victory could not have happened without the community support.

“We’re not naïve enough to believe we could have done this on our own,” Mavencamp told Byerly 40 years ago. “It’s taken a tremendous community and school effort.”

Winning the state championship, he added, was the team’s way of saying “thank you.”

This “thank you” is a gift that keeps on giving, as people of the community continue to reminisce and celebrate this glorious year, especially after the Fergus girls followed suit by also defeating Glendive to take state on Saturday, Dec. 1, 1979. 

Led by Janet Milburn’s game-high 20 points, the Fergus girls also beat Glendive by 10 points, 51-41, capping off a 21-1 season record, making them “one of the best Class A girls basketball teams in history,” according to a Dec. 5, 1979 article in the News-Argus.

“Every goal was fulfilled,” Fergus girls Coach John Bolten said shortly after the state championship. “There wasn’t one disappointment in the season.”

As The Knack’s “My Sharona” blasted on stereos, what people heard the most around Lewistown were screams and shouts of Golden Eagle pride. It was a special feeling, one Mavencamp said was not taken for granted.

“We wanted that championship,” he said in 1979. “It’s been so elusive to Fergus High School, and we believed we’d get it.”

More state championships would come in 2001, as the Golden Eagle football team and Golden Eagle girls basketball teams both won championships Saturday, Nov. 17, briefly giving Lewistown the nickname “Titletown,” which became a book recapping that magical fall.

However, such milestones are few and far between in Lewistown sports, so when anniversaries arise, nostalgia often ensues. Perhaps the Golden Eagles will once again take state in basketball, but, until then, reflections will do.