The past year produced many great moments across the sports landscape in Montana. But nobody had as prosperous a year as the Montana State Bobcats, who saw their football team play in the FCS national championship game in January — its first appearance in a title contest since 1984 — and win a Big Sky Conference championship in November — its first in 10 years — all within a 365-day span.
Also, MSU football players Troy Andersen and Daniel Hardy were both drafted in the NFL and five made rosters, and the Bobcats' men's and women's basketball teams each won Big Sky titles and advanced to play in their respective NCAA tournaments. It was the Bobcat men's first trip to the Big Dance since 1996.
And who could forget about College GameDay making a coveted appearance in Bozeman ahead of the 121st Cat-Griz football game? The show, for years an ESPN college football staple, was broadcast on Nov. 19 across Kagy Avenue from Bobcat Stadium in frigid temperatures in front of a hearty crowd, serving as a prelude to Montana State's 55-21 trouncing of the rival Montana Grizzlies.
Other top stories included Montana Tech's men and Rocky Mountain College's women winning their first Frontier basketball titles in decades; Lodge Grass' Damon Gros Ventre breaking the state's single-game scoring record with 71 points only to be surpassed five days later by Lame Deer's Journey Emerson, who scored 82; the Montana High School Association adopting a 35-second shot clock for boys and girls basketball and sanctioning baseball for 2023; and Rocky's Sydney Little Light winning an NAIA national title in the 1,500 meters.
But there was so much in addition to the wins and losses and the highs and lows experienced by teams and athletes at all levels across Montana in 2022. Here is a list of some of the top feature and human interest stories from the past year, which were the focus of the MTN year-end Sports Extra broadcast this week:
- In August, Fort Shaw cowboy Rorrie Toren was surprised to learn he was receiving the Rocky’s Road Perseverance, Character and Hope award at the Big Sky Pro Rodeo Roundup in Great Falls. Toren, 62, was a promising cowboy as a teenager but suffered paralysis after being bucked off a horse during his junior year at Choteau High School 46 years ago. The award is a gold belt buckle named after the late Rocky Heckman, an outfitter and rodeo advocate who died after a battle with brain cancer. It is awarded every year by Rocky’s widow, Lorell Heckman, and her children.
- Los Angles Rams' receiver Lance McCutcheon, a Bozeman High alum and one of five MSU Bobcats on NFL rosters this season, marked the league's annual "My Cause My Cleats" initiative in December to raise awareness about mental health through the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention. McCutcheon lost one of his best friends, Connor Mills, to suicide in the eighth grade.
- Chester native and former Carroll College standout Casey FitzSimmons opened up in August about his struggles with concussions, a story that also had national implications. FitzSimmons' issues are the result of a lifetime in football that culminated with a seven-year stint in the NFL with the Detroit Lions. “I was in a bad spot. And to be honest with you, I went pretty manic and went kind of off my rails for quite a few years,” he said. FitzSimmons is outspoken for increased player safety at all levels of the game.
- Warren G. Hardin was president when Helena's Charlotte Sanddal was born. Sanddal turned 100 this past August, but that did nothing to quell her passion for swimming. Sanddal didn't take up competitive swimming until the age of 70 but has been a fixture in the water for the past 30 years, and is a member of the Big Sky Montana Masters Swim Club in Helena. Her secret to longevity? "Getting in the water, and never smoking," Sanddal said.
- Longtime Montana Television Network anchor Jay Kohn took up play-by-play duties for the Montana football team during MTN's Big Sky Conference football broadcasts in 2022, which he called "the cherry on top of a career which I had pretty much put into the record books." Kohn, 70, was joined by color analyst Marty Mornhinweg for each of UM's games broadcast on MTN. But the season was meaningful for Kohn for more than one reason, and he dedicated it to his late daughter Melanie, a Griz fan who passed away from cervical cancer in 2021 at the age of 45.
For a breakdown of these stories included in MTN's year-end Sports Extra show, see the video above. Here's to a great 2023.