HELENA — In early February hundreds of top football talents signed with Montana colleges on National Signing Day. Like all programs, Carroll College first recognized the athletic ability of these student-athletes, but this incoming crop of Fighting Saints may have its biggest shoes to fill off the field.
Carroll football players past and present have set the bar high in that regard, building a friendship with one of the Fighting Saints’ biggest super-fans, Chris Halverson.
“I think you look back on life and see how fortunate you are. It’s a blessing to be alive and it’s a blessing to see people in different circumstances be in a better mood than you are constantly,” former Helena High and Carroll College linebacker Sean Blomquist said. “It’s pretty special to see a guy smiling no matter what, win, lose or draw. It’s very special.”
Chris overcame battles of his own on his path to befriending the Fighting Saints. When he was a year and three days old, Chris drowned while he was at the babysitter’s.
“We spent a lot of time in the hospital and he has progressively gotten better and better to what he is today,” said Chris’ mother, Kathy. “He wasn’t supposed to do anything. They said he would be a vegetable for the rest of his life, so I feel very fortunate.”
But Chris Halverson surpassed doctors’ expectations, becoming the energetic, happy man he is today. Along the way, Chris became a huge Carroll College football fan and quickly became a favorite of the players.
“We first met between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I was helping out with Special Olympics track and field when I came across him and I knew there was going to be a connection,” said former Carroll tight end Nate Hinrichs. “He loved football, so he was obviously drawn toward me, and I was drawn right back toward him, seeing all the things he did.”
“It actually just came about very organically,” Hinrichs continued. “We were sitting there talking and (Kathy) said, ‘What are you doing for the rest of the summer?’ I thought about it and I said, ‘I don’t have a job, I don’t have anything going on,’ so when she (asked if I would work with Chris) it was a no-brainer. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m in. Let’s go.’ She told me we could go camping and do all these fun things together, and that first summer was the best because we had all this freedom and time to go do things together, and we also had three different guys (Ty Weideman, Travis Knoll and myself) on the staff.”
“It’s a lifesaver. I’ve already had one back fusion, so it’s a lifesaver,” said Kathy. “They keep him busy and he sleeps better when they’re here. They wear him out. He feels like he’s part of something. If it wasn’t for them, we probably wouldn’t do much of anything. It keeps him busy. It makes my life easier because he’s not bored. Chris does not do well bored.”
Over the years, numerous Saints football players have worked for Kathy, spending time with Chris. As athletes graduated from Carroll, the job was passed down from Fighting Saint to Fighting Saint, building a fun tradition.
“The first time I was going out there, I didn’t know exactly what to expect,” said former Carroll linebacker Jake Konen. “I didn’t know what exactly the job description was, but it was pretty much just being his friend. It wasn’t hard at all. He has a great sense of humor. You just have to learn how he communicates and once you do that, he’s hilarious.”
“Chris, he’s non-verbal, he’s able to say words like, ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ so you just kind of listen to him,” said Alec Basterrechea, a former Saints defensive end. “He’ll tell you if he has to be toileted or anything like that, put to bed. A lot more than anything, it’s just having fun with the guy. You get to play Xbox with him, which, don’t tell him this but I kick his butt all the time. No, actually he beat me in WWE. It’s a lot of going out and spending time with him, spending time with his friends in Special Olympics, he has a lot of friends. He works at Capital City Health Club, so you go out there and help him. He just makes everybody’s day, basically. It doesn’t really feel like a job, you know it is a job, but he definitely brightens up your day when you go out there.”
“It’s Chris’ day. We call him ‘Boss’ and whatever Boss wants to do, pizza or whatever — Chris is a big pizza guy — so video games and pizza, I think that’s his ideal day,” said Blomquist.
Every Saturday afternoon inside Carroll’s Nelson Stadium, one can find Chris and Kathy Halverson from their perch on the berm in the northeast end zone. Every time the Saints enter or exit the field, there sits Chris, awaiting his ritual high-five from every player on the roster.
“That support from Chris, it’s absolutely — like I said, when you’re having a bad day, it’s hard to look at Chris, and he’s having a blast no matter what, and be down on yourself,” said Basterrechea. “With the situation he’s living in, it’s pretty amazing to see him always having a smile on his face and cheering for you no matter what you’re doing. The thing he brings to his love for Carroll football — this is another funny story, when I first started working with him I kind of jokingly said, ‘Hey, man, I’m sorry, but I’m going to transfer to (Montana) Tech.’ I said it as a joke, but he cocks back and just decks me. It caught me off-guard, but it was a complete joke. That just shows you how much he loves Carroll football.”
“He’s just the staple, just a focal point for positivity,” added Konen. “He wakes up in the morning and he’s happy, he’s ready to go for the day, he’s excited for the day, and you can’t help but feed off of that, too. Everyone is fighting their own battles, and then you look at Chris and have to think, ‘I have nothing to complain about.'”