BILLINGS – Inside the Rimrock Auto Arena at the Montana State Class C Basketball Tournament, there’s a basketball team from Chinook. You may not have heard of them, but these folks sure have.
“It’s wild for all of us. We are all super excited,” said Hailey Bell, a sophomore at Chinook High School. “Our boys are doing great, and we are all really excited and glad to be here.”
It’s been 33 years since the Chinook Sugarbeeters have been to the state tournament. Their last appearance was in 1986.
Chinook is a pretty small community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1,250 live there. Community ties go way back.
“It feels pretty good. I mean, I’ve been in school with all them guys for a really long time,” said Tye Mitchell, a Chinook senior. “I’m just super proud of them. They are really nice kids. They really wanted this.”
People in small towns like Chinook usually serve multiple roles in the community. Like Izeyah Abayomi, a sophomore who manages the basketball team and plays bass in the pep band.
“I love the seniors and all that stuff. I really wanted to travel with the seniors as well. Experience stuff with them as well as the pep band. So I decided to do both,” said Abayomi.
Then he was asked about winning their first-round game against the Plenty Coups Warriors. That game made the Sugarbeeters 26-0 on the season.
“It’s kind of a normal thing (winning one game), I’m not going to lie. Okay. We’re 25-0. But it’s a little bit more surreal here,” Abayomi said. “It’s the Billings Metra, we’re at state, you know. It’s a lot more exciting than a normal season.”
Speaking of the pep band, there was someone playing the cowbell with a vivacious vigor that really attracted attention. His name was Daniel Macleod, and his technique was rather simple.
“It’s just the rhythm,” Macleod said. “It takes a little bit of practice and a little bit of natural born skill. Natural born.”
The Class C Basketball Tournament even crosses generations. Hunter and Jamie Neibauer are father and son. Jamie was on the team the last time the Sugarbeeters were in the tournament. Hunter thinks he’s a little bit better than his old man.
“He was always a good shooter and a good rebounder and I’ve been told the same. But I think I can jump a little bit higher then he can,” Hunter Neibauer said. “ My vertical is a little bit more above the rim. I play maybe a little bit more physical but.”
Jamie Neibauer retorted, “Maybe not the physical part, but surely he can jump way higher then I can.”
Neibauer reckons that the whole town will be watching this next game Friday night.
“You know, there’s probably some stuff going on, but I bet everybody that has the opportunity to watch the game, if they can watch it on their computers or whatever. They are watching it,” said Neibauer.
And there’s nowhere else the Sugarbeeters would rather be.
Chinook faces off against the Arlee Warriors at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Rimrock Auto Arena.