The Heart Butte boys basketball team is used to overcoming obstacles on the way to success.
Three years ago in 2018, the Warriors won district and divisional championships despite snow forcing them to stay in hotels for three straight weeks.
In 2019 and 2020, they knocked off higher seeds at the district tournament to claim 10C titles.
But this year threw a new challenge at the Warriors.
“We had about 10 kids not try out just due to COVID,” said fifth-year Heart Butte head coach Kellen Hall. “They were just wanting to protect their families. We have a lot of kids that live in multi-generational homes, so they opted out just to keep their grandmothers and grandfathers safe. There’s nothing I can do about that and, to be honest, I am also kind of proud about that. COVID is no joke, and they’re taking it seriously.”
However, that left Heart Butte with nine total payers on the roster, with no sub-varsity teams, meaning the Warriors don’t even have enough bodies to scrimmage 5-on-5 in practice.
“It's a challenge for me mostly just because I've never had this situation, I've always been able to manage it, even at a 20-player practice,” Hall said. “But in this situation, yeah, we can’t do a 5-on-5. So every now and then I'll step in as an extra body, just to have that extra look.”
Despite the small roster, and challenges at practice, the Warriors are still the Warriors. They’re 4-1 on the season and have their sights set on a fourth straight District 10C title.
Heart Butte is led by three seniors with loads of talent. Dillon Kipp and Cameron Falcon are returning all-conference players. Jordan Calf Looking transferred from Browning in the offseason, and currently leads the Warriors in scoring at 19.8 points per game.
Three juniors and a handful of underclassmen round out the Warriors' undermanned roster. Hall said the players are incredibly grateful just to take the court in light of the circumstances.
“As much as the reservation has been shut down since April, these guys still found a way to work out in their driveways and in their homes,” Hall said. “So these guys know that the target is on our back as defending district champs and everybody that we play is going to bring their ‘A’ game. So they're not whining about it. They accept the challenge and I believe they're ready to take on whatever's ahead of them.”
Per school and tribal guidelines, fans aren’t allowed at home games. But the support from the community remains overwhelming.
“The families are disappointed they can’t have the normalcy of going to games, but if families are supporting at home, they'll do it,” Hall said. “A lot of people subscribed to the NFHS Network and I get a lot of phone calls and a lot of text messages giving high praise to these kids for what they're doing this year.”
Heart Butte fell to Simms last Friday before topping Class B Conrad on Saturday. The Warriors will host Dutton-Brady on Thursday before heading to Valier on Friday.