Pat Kearney would have gone full-on Kermit the Frog.
The voice of the late Butte broadcasting icon would have hit so high on the decibel scale that every dog in a 10-mile radius would have howled for the next 3 hours.
When Kearney got excited during a radio broadcast, he would start to sound like Jim Henson’s famous, lovable frog. Not everyone could understand him, but Kearney getting excited was one of the most beautiful things in Butte sports. (Click here for the podcast version of this column.)
That definitely would have happened Saturday when Butte Central senior Dougie Peoples passed the legendary “Jumpin’” Joe Kelly to become the highest-scoring boys’ basketball player in Mining City history.
No boy from Butte Central or Butte High has scored more points than Peoples.
Kearney, who died way too young in 2014, talked about Jumpin’ Joe like most people talked about Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio. To Pat, Jumpin’ Joe was the great player to whom all other great players were measured.
Pat talked about the Butte legend for good reason, too. Kelly scored 1,404 points for Butte Central from 1942 through 1945.
Kelly went on to play briefly at Notre Dame before finishing his career at Montana State. He became Butte’s sixth high school athlete to be inducted into the Montana High School Athletes’ Hall of Fame in 2013. He joined Brian Morris and Danny Hanley from Butte Central and Milt Popovich, Bob O’Malley and Bill Hawke from Butte High.
In 1987, Jumpin’ Joe was inducted as a charter member of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame, where he was joined by Butte legends Sylvia (White) Blaine, Bob O’Billovich, Swede Dahlberg, Jim McCaughey, Jim Sweeney, Bill Cullen, Judy (Morstein) Martz, Walter T. Scott, Popovich, Hawke, O’Malley and Hanley.
Kelly, who completed a successful career as a professor at St. Louis University, passed away at the age of 82 in 2008.
That Peoples made us mentioning the great Jumpin’ Joe would have had Kearney over the moon. The countdown to 1,405 would have started with his first basket of the 2022-23 season, and the excitement would have built up with each game.
Pat probably would not have been able to contain himself when Peoples passed Kelly in Saturday’s rout of Livingston at the Maroon Activities Center.
It would have been something like when Ryan Murphy buried a 15-foot jumper as time expired to give the Maroons a 49-48 win over Colstrip in the semifinals of the 1990 Class A State tournament in Bozeman.
People relying on the radio knew that Butte Central won the game that night, but they did not know exactly how until Kearney settled down.
They might have had to read Jim Edgar’s story in the paper the next morning to know that Murph, who also died way too young, hit that big shot.
I have to imagine it would have been something like that when Dougie drove from the left side and banked in a bucket in the third quarter Saturday at the MAC. BC coach Brodie Kelly called time out, and Dougie’s record was reported over the public address speakers.
The smallish Saturday afternoon crowd stood and applauded. It was a nice ovation, but it seemed way too small for the accomplishment. The moment was just missing something.
It was missing Pat Kearney.
I miss my old friend Pat all the time. I have missed him more than ever the last two seasons, and that is all because of Dougie Peoples and Brooke Badovinac, a BC senior who is also bringing up great names from the past.
I don’t even want to begin to think about how he would have called Dougie’s 27-foot jumper at the buzzer as the Maroons edged Lewistown in a classic Class A State championship game last March in Missoula.
It would have been absolutely insane and not even close to understandable.
Like Kearney, I am not nearly old enough to have seen Jumpin’ Joe play basketball. Those who are, however, say he was amazing. Kelly once scored 96 points in the State tournament.
I would say that Peoples and former Butte High star Gary Kane, who was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame last summer, are the two best Butte boys’ basketball players I have watched.
Peoples’ numbers certainly back that up. Kelly scored his 1,404 points in 97 games. Dougie has 1,412 through just 65 games.
Only two Mining City players have scored more points than Peoples.
BC legend Kellie Johnson-Mead scored 1,530 points in 83 games. She was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
Butte High star Lexie Nelson, a future Hall of Famer, scored 1,696 points in 91 games.
Kane, who averaged a school-record 21.5 points in 1989, scored 883 points in 53 games. He played in an era when freshmen and sophomores seeing varsity time was basically unheard of.
John Dawson’s 1,022 points in 73 games from 1966 through 1968 is Butte High’s boys’ record.
Butte High freshman Hudson Luedke has the makings of at least making a run at Dawson’s Bulldog boys’ mark.
Allowing eighth graders to play varsity sports (except football) could possibly be a game changer for the record books, too. BC eighth grader Joshua Sutton, who has shown off his skills on the BC varsity and junior varsity teams this season, has to already be a threat to Peoples’ new record.
Dougie’s brother Ryan, a freshman who has been lighting up the scoreboard in junior varsity games, is worth watching, too.
East Middle School eighth grader Cadence Graham, who scored 18 points to lead Butte High’s varsity in last week’s win over Butte Central at the Civic Center, already has a jump on Nelson thanks to the new rule.
For now, though, it is time to celebrate Dougie Peoples.
He scored 629 points during BC’s championship season last year. That came after he scored 438 points during his sophomore season, which was shortened by the pandemic.
Peoples was on the bench as BC claimed a share of the title at the pandemic-shortened 2020 Class A State tournament in Billings, but he did not score a varsity point as a freshman.
He can drive to the basket as good as any high school player I have ever covered in 25 years as a sportswriter. The lefty has a 3-point shot that seems to float gently toward the hoop.
It’s as if Dougie puts helium in the ball as he is letting it go.
His release is lighting fast, and Peoples is as clutch as they come.
Before his game-winning shot at State, he stole the ball and took it for an old-fashioned three-point play that turned the tide of the game.
A couple weeks earlier in Dillon, Peoples converted a four-point play with 23.7 seconds left to put the Maroons up one in BC’s 53-51 win over the Beavers in the Southwestern A District championship game.
You see a four-point play from time to time. You never see them with a team down three in the final seconds.
So many of his 1,412 points have come at critical moments.
Nobody would have enjoyed those moments more than Pat Kearney, who sadly missed them all, at least physically.
That is really a shame, too.
Dougie Peoples’ great career with the Maroons would have constantly brought out Kermit the Frog in Butte’s great announcer and sports historian.
It would have been so much fun.
— Bill Foley, who is only 1,412 points behind Dougie Peoples on the all-time list, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Listen to the ButteCast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.