John Tierney had to pause as we talked about his daughter and son, Brittney and Zach, while watching Butte High’s baseball team open the season last Friday in Columbus.

Then, he nodded and smiled.

“We’re pretty lucky,” he said, referring to his wife, Belinda.

Brittney graduated from Butte High School in 2019. She was a standout for the Bulldogs in volleyball, basketball and softball.

In all the years I’ve spent covering high school and college sports, there is not a player I enjoyed watching more than Brittney. She played like her life depended on each possession and each pitch, and she had a smile on her face the whole time.

One time I asked her basketball coach, Maury Cook, about Brittney. The coach paused, and then he nodded and smiled.

“She’s why coaches coach,” he said.

When I took my son Grady and a friend to a game to watch the Bulldogs play basketball one night when Brittney was a junior or senior, I told the two boys to watch No. 51.

I told the boys to play every sport like Brittney Tierney does.

Brittney, a valedictorian of the Butte High Class of 2019, is about to graduate from Montana State University with a nearly perfect record. Someday soon, she will be one of the best doctors in the world.

Zach is Brittney’s much larger little brother. The Butte High senior signed to play football for Montana Tech, so his playing days are far from over.

Unfortunately, Zach’s career at Butte High was limited somewhat by injury.

During the fall of 2020, former Bulldog wrestling coach Jim Street told me a little bit about what he thought of Tierney as we watched him play football.

“He is the best freshman heavyweight wrestler I have ever seen,” Street said.

Street has seen some wrestlers, too. He was, after all, the coach whose Bulldogs won 15 Class AA State titles, including 13 straight from 1980 through 1992.

The following wrestling season, though, Zach injured his shoulder. That injury also cost him all of the 2021 baseball season.

The next summer, Zach helped the Butte Miners win State and Regional titles, and then he helped lead the Bulldog football team to the playoffs last fall. After committing to play football at Montana Tech, though, Zach suffered another shoulder injury while wrestling.

This time, Zach tore the labrum on the right side. He is not going to undergo surgery, opting instead to fix it with rehab and some hard work.

That, though, limits Zach to playing designated hitter for Butte High’s baseball team this season.

Can he even throw a ball with that bum shoulder?

“Kind of,” he said. “I can throw like a girl.”

Of course, Zach wisely did not say that when Brittney was around.

I always tell Zach, who was listed at 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds when the rosters for the Montana East-West Shrine Game were announced on Christmas, that he is not as tough as his sister. He never argues.

And Zach is a mountain of a young man.

The first time I saw him play was at a Little League All-Star tournament at Jim Scown Field in Butte. It seemed like every time he made contact, the ball was gone. Long gone.

He punished the house way beyond the fence in left-center field.

Even when he popped the ball up, he was strong enough for it to be a home run.

Someone told me that day that Tierney hit nearly 50 home runs homes between travel ball, Little League and All-Stars that season.

As he moved up to American Legion ball, that power only grew. One time, I swear, the ball left a vapor trail as it left Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium. The ball was last season headed toward Daly Street in Walkerville.

I have never seen a player that age even rival Zach’s power.

On the football field, Zach is an absolute warrior. He plays almost every play of the game in the trenches, and he leaves everything he has on the field. If you see him after a game, he is absolutely exhausted.

Like his sister, Zach plays every play like his life depends on it, and he is usually smiling.

Montana Tech coach Kyle Samson should face larceny chargers for signing him to play at the Fronter Conference school. If he stays healthy, Zach will be an Oredigger Hall of Famer.

Like with Brittney, though, it is not just how well Zach plays that is the most fun thing about watching.

In the dugout, he is the loudest player and the biggest fan of every player on the team. His cheering borderlines on the ridiculous. He even used to make former Miners head coach Jeff LeProwse, now the president of the Butte American Legion program, laugh when he coached third base.

“Do better,” Zach once yelled at the coach, coining a slogan for an entire season.

Even when he had to sit out the summer following shoulder surgery, Zach was there every game, loudly cheering on his teammates.

During the basketball season, he is the leader of the Butte High student section, almost always dressed up in some ridiculous getup as he supports the Bulldogs.

Never will you see a more supportive teammate than Zach Tierney. Never.

That even goes when the younger players are on the field.

Zach umpired my son when I coached him in 9-10 baseball a few years ago, but he probably never followed Grady’s career.

He probably had no idea what Grady has gone through the last few years. Two years ago, he played baseball but could hardly run at all. I think it would take him about 10 seconds to get from the batter’s box to first base.

We took him to Salt Lake and Seattle to see specialists, fearing that he was suffering from muscular dystrophy. We thought there was a decent chance he would be in a wheelchair by now.

When the specialists didn’t know what was wrong, Beth Salusso, a physical therapist at Lone Peak Physical Therapy, would not accept that for an answer. She kept looking until a Seattle Children’s Hospital doctor said Grady’s condition was related to his asthma.

The overload of steroids injected into him to keep him breathing during a couple of Life Flight trips to Missoula attacked his leg muscles. Time and physical therapy would help, the doctor said.

Then, Beth and Lone Peak colleague Jake Querciagrossa worked to get him running again.

Today, Grady is not fast, but he can run a lot better than before. We were so thrilled when he made Butte High’s junior varsity baseball team as a freshman.

Shortly after I talked with John Tierney in Columbus Friday, Grady made his first plate appearance with the Bulldogs as a pinch hitter, and he smoked a 1-1 pitch to left field for a solid single.

As Grandy ran down the baseline and rounded first by a few steps, I thought about all the hard work and the scary nights that we went through. I fought back the tears of joy.

The coolest thing about that moment, though, was not just the hit. It was hearing all the older players cheer him on. Zach cheered the loudest, and, naturally, he was the most ridiculous. It was a thing of beauty.

Zach and his teammates could have had no idea how much that meant my wife and me.

That one single and the cheering that came with it during a 15-4 Bulldog JV win will go down as one of my best moments as a dad.

I felt as lucky as John Tierney.

— Bill Foley, who could get from the batter’s box to first base in 9 and a half seconds in his heyday, can be reached at Follow him at Listen to the ButteCast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.