That Memorable Belt-Centerville Semifinal

It has definitely come full circle for me here at the 8C District Tournament in Lewistown. While calling the semifinals last night for KMON I was reminded of one of the best semifinal games I ever saw.

My freshman year of high school the scene was set at Paris Gibson Middle School. The banners, creative as ever, were hung near the rafters with their inspiration messages of Tear Em Up’ Tigers, Miner Pride, and Huskies Don’t Stop the Hustle. The smell of burnt popcorn hung in the air and you couldn’t find a seat in the place. Paris Gibson Gymnasium was a madhouse.

It was Belt-Centerville. It was a rivalry. The rivalry to tell you the truth. It was for a chance at the Augusta Elks the next evening in the chipper. You don’t have to give those two schools any other reason to spill blood, sweat, and tears on the basketball court when they are playing each other.

I walked into the gym with my old man and of course it took us forever to find a seat. That’s what happens when the place is packed. It also happens when your dad knows everyone in the gym and stops to BS with them the moment he walks in the gym. On a side note, never go anywhere with my dad if you are in a hurry, it just doesn’t happen.

Well back to the story, we found our seats and they weren’t VIP by any stretch of the imagination. We were at the top, and I mean top of the stands. Anybody who has been in physics class knows that heat rises. Well enough of it rose that night to make it about ninety-five degrees up in the stands and I can’t imagine how close to combustion-like it was on the playing floor. The tournament site directors kicked open the doors to let a breeze flow into the Paris Gym but it wasn’t enough. It was the equivalent of offering a guy a Dixie cup of water after he crossed the Sahara.

From the top of the bleachers I watched these two storied programs go at it. They didn’t like each other and they did not want to have to play that next morning at some ungodly hour. Dennis Gerke was coaching the Centerville boys and Reece Gliko was at the helm for Belt. You didn’t need to tell anybody to get on their feet. It was State of the Union like for most of game, every single time someone hit a shot half the crowd would rise to their feet while the other half would curse things you wouldn’t repeat at a biker bar at the officials.

I just cannot forget the energy in that gymnasium when Centerville’s sharpshooter Nick Luoma would can a triple from dang near the center circle. Nick could shoot that ball. He could also dunk, which was impressive in the gravity bound District 8C. This fact was reminded to everyone with the Air Luoma sign in the crowd. Belt had its own athletes. Sam Keaster to be more specific was a monster in the post. He was bigger and stronger than everyone else, and he knew it.

The contest was tight, it was heated and it was memorable. The most memorable moment came at the end of the first quarter when Morgan Umphres caught the ball around the opposite free throw line, took a dribble, and launched one from behind the half court line.

It went in.

The place went nuts.

I still have yet to see as big a moment as that in all my years of watching the 8C Tournament. It was spectacular if you were from Sand Coulee and if you happen to take a left at Four Corners instead of a right it was luck. Whatever you want to call it, it was special.

I had the chance to play in one semifinal in my playing career at Great Falls Central. We lost, but it was something special. Everyone gets excited about the big game but we sometimes forget there are even bigger games for some communities before they hit the championship. I don’t care what you say, games don’t get any bigger than Belt-Centerville.

That’s what this tournament is. It is a collection of some of the best teams in Montana, some of the best communities in America, and some of the best people in the world. Even if some of those people say some things to officials that they should talk to a priest about.

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