One day last spring, Butte Central’s softball team was playing in Frenchtown.
A younger brother of a BC player went to a nearby park to shoot hoops instead of watching his sister play softball.
Some younger boys noticed the boy was wearing a Butte Central Maroons shirt as he dribbled and shot.
“Do you know Dougie Peoples,” one of the young boys asked excitedly, as if he was talking about Michael Jordan, LeBron James or Patrick Mahomes.
Less than two months earlier, Peoples had become a household name across the state after he sank a 27-foot shot at the buzzer to lift Butte Central to 61-58 win over Lewistown in the Class A State championship game in Missoula.
To so many people in Butte, Peoples had become a local sports hero. To so many kids paying attention, he was simply a hero.
While the shot went viral with the dozens of videos of the game-winner circulating around the internet, that is not why Peoples’ performance was so legendary.
Really, that game-winning shot was just another play in one of the best performances we have ever seen. It wasn’t even his best play of the game.
That he made that shot was not even remotely surprising to the people who watched the Maroons play all year. Peoples hit long shots all the time.
Peoples also had a late steal for a bucket and foul that changed the temperature of that thrilling game. He scored 37 points in an effort that BC coach Brodie Kelly called “super human.”
To me, Peoples is also super human off the court. Hopefully everyone, young and old, is paying attention to this remarkable young man.
Late last week, Peoples learned he was one of 19 recipients of the 2023 Mariah’s Challenge Scholarship.
Leo McCarthy started Mariah’s Challenge after his 14-year-old daughter Mariah was killed by an underage drunk driver in October of 2007. The movement encourages students to never drink and drive or get into a car with someone who has been drinking.
There is no way to calculate how many lives Mariah’s Challenge has saved since its inception, but I’m pretty sure mine was one of them. I am proud to say that I was one of the first to accept the Challenge, and I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since the night Mariah passed away.
In March, Mariah would have turned 30 years old. The boys and girls who knew her are all grown men and women, many with families of their own.
Mariah, as her dad says, is forever 14.
With so much time passed, I worried that Mariah’s message might be fading away. Generational amnesia has taken away the sting of that horrible tragedy that shook our community to its core.
Then, Leo sent me the essay Peoples wrote about Mariah’s Challenge. The essay, which was part of the scholarship application, showed me that the message is still going strong.
“Mariah’s Challenge has guided my life into a favorable direction,” Peoples wrote. “I have learned many lessons that will be crucial for my future. My choice to be alcohol and drug free have caused me to be a better student, athlete, and human. Mariah’s Challenge has made me a better person and I am eternally grateful for the organization.”
Sure, anyone can say that, especially when they are trying to get a scholarship. When you get further into the essay, though, you can see that Peoples is 100 percent genuine.
He writes about feeling left out because of his decision to live by the ideals of Mariah’s Challenge. He would look on Snapchat and see his friends were out having fun without him.
That would be devastating to anybody, but Peoples would not let it sink him. Instead, he did what he knows best. He shot baskets at the Maroon Activities Center.
He took his feelings out on the court, shooting thousands of shots that helped turn him into the player that he is today. That player, by the way, is the Montana Gatorade Player of the Year and a signee with defending NAIA national champion College of Idaho.
He is one of the best high school basketball players the Mining City has ever produced, and he is still getting better.
“Unknowingly, it prepared me for my future and molded me into the person I am today,” Peoples wrote of Mariah’s Challenge.
Peoples’ struggle is a story his 18 fellow Mariah’s Challenge Scholarship winners can certainly relate to. They all must know what it feels like to be left out.
Yet, they persevered and stayed true to themselves. They are heading toward high school graduation and onto college, and the world is now theirs.
They are also providing a great example for the rest of us.
Whether you are 8, 18 or 38, everyone needs good role models. You need not look further than the latest class of Mariah’s Messengers.
They are Isaiah Bergren, Parker Brownback, Payton Clary, Tyler Duffy, Olivia Kohn, Aunika LeProwse, Gianna Liva, Chesney Lowe, Riley Lubick, Gabriella McPeek, Emma Meadow, Miranda Murray, Jasmine Richards, Jacob Sawyer, Madison Seaholm, Jonas Sherman, Ryan Tomich, Alex Watson and Peoples.
Some are also athletes. Some are not. Murray and Peoples are from Butte Central, and Lowe is from Thompson Falls. The rest will graduate from Butte High.
They all have good grades. They can be anything they want to be, and Mariah’s Challenge has helped pave their road to success.
“By staying alcohol and drug free throughout high school, I have gained a mature outlook on situations,” Peoples wrote. “I have begun to understand the impact relationships have on life, and value and cherish them. I wish younger me could have seen into the vision of the path my life would take.
“Thankfully, I do see my vision now, and I am the conductor of my own life. I can guide my own path in the direction I want it to go. When other people declare their opinions onto me, I have the satisfaction of knowing it does not matter. I believe my life is on a path toward success, and Mariah’s Challenge played a large role in driving my success. It has taught me I do not
need to be like everyone else. Mariah’s Challenge has given me a different perspective that being different is not a bad thing.
“In reality, being different from others is something that deserves to be celebrated. You cannot be great if you stay hidden in the pack.”
That last sentence should be on T-shirts. It should be plastered on posters in every school in the world. They should be words that we all live by.
They are words that should be especially driven home to high school, middle school and elementary school students.
If you follow the crowd and worry about what others think of you, you are not truly living your own life. You are letting others live it for you.
Dougie Peoples and the other 18 Mariah’s Messengers are clearly strong enough to live their own lives. They are strong enough to be themselves, and they are thriving.
So, here’s to the newest Mariah’s Messengers. Thank you for restoring my faith that Mariah’s message is as strong as ever.
Thank you for showing us all that you don’t have to hit that big shot to be a hero.
— Bill Foley, who has never been accused of being super human, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Listen to the ButteCast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.