HAVRE -- The Hi-Line Invitational basketball tournament celebrated its 34th year in Havre.
One of Montana’s premier basketball showcases, the event annually features the top athletes from each classification battling it out for state supremacy.
The idea for the tournament was hatched in the 1980s by Malta native and longtime hoops junkie Babsie Bishop.
He had held an independent basketball tournament in Malta for a number of years featuring college and amateur players but was trying to increase attendance and interest.
He and his good friend Tom Storm were driving back from the 1986 Big Sky tournament in Reno when a light bulb went off.
“I go, ‘Tommy, I got a good idea. I'm going to invite some high school kids. I'm going to put them in the same time as the big kids and we'll get a crowd,’” Bishop recalled. “I thought I’d invite Hi-Line kids from Havre down to Glasgow or whatever.”
About 10 miles later, Bishop had an even better idea.
“I'm going to get the best. Instead of just Hi-Line kids, I'm going to get the best at each of the classes -- AA, A, B and C," he said. "And I'm going to try and get like 10 kids and we'll bring them in and play.”
From there, Bishop made the tournament a reality hosting the first H.I.T. in Havre in 1987.
“We got a great turnout, great crowd, the kids had fun and that's kind of how it got started.,” Bishop said. “So we always felt if we could put it on and we could get a kid or two a scholarship, then, you know, it was worth it.”
Now 35 years later, the H.I.T. is still going strong, regularly drawing the best athletes from each class and providing them a showcase for competition and potential college recruitment.
For 23 years, Bishop was the primary organizer and manager for the tournament in Malta. But as the format changed over the years from an independent event for amateur teams to a high school all-star showcase, Bishop relinquished his duties to MSU-Northern basketball coaches Shawn Huse and Chris Mouat. The tournament has been held in Havre for 12 years, with the exception of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the event.
But Bishop remained involved and still attends the tournament every year, getting to return to his roots as a hoops fan. After all, that’s what he started the H.I.T. in the first place.
“I love it. You hear about these kids all year long but you don’t get much opportunities to watch them play,” Bishop said. “And so to see them all get together and play against each other is great. Most of these kids have never played together and have been rivals. But they become friends. They find out, ‘Hey, that kid ain't so bad,' you know? So that's neat to see too.”
Basketball has been as the center of Bishop’s life for many years, and he’s made countless connections and friends while hosting tournaments and assembling teams. You’ll rarely find him in the same seat for long during the tournament, as he makes his way from seat to seat greeting old friends and new fans alike.
And though his role has changed over three decades, his love for competition and helping athletes realize their dreams remains as strong as ever.
“I ran into a kid, Colt Idol from Whitefish, in Texas a while ago while I was guiding a bird hunting trip south of San Antonio,” Bishop said. “And we couldn’t remember where we recognized each other but then realized he’s played in the H.I.T. We shared some memories. What a small world though. It seems like every time you go someplace, you run into a kid that played a tournament or they know someone that played. It's been great. So a lot of good memories."
Bishop laughed, then continued:
"But we're not getting any younger!”