BILLINGS — Two years ago, Billings Skyview had two of the longest-tenured coaches in all of Montana. Two weeks ago, the final one retired, leaving behind a legacy that extends well beyond the volleyball court.
"You know that old saying, 'Time flies when you're having fun,' and I've had a ball," said longtime Skyview volleyball coach Vicki Carle. "My kids were raised here at Skyview - my husband's here. You know, we're pretty lucky how everything has worked out for us."
After finishing high school in Three Forks and graduating from Montana State as the Bobcats' all-time leading basketball scorer, Vicki Heebner probably never guessed where her career would take her - first to Conrad where she coached both basketball and volleyball, because that's what you do at a small school.
"They need help everywhere," Carle said. "I was in charge of the school newspaper, too, the Buckin' Bulletin it was called."
She and new husband, Mike, then moved to Vancouver, Wash., where she continued to teach and coach both sports, but after five years, they couldn't say no to a new opportunity.
"Skyview opened up - there was a teaching position for both of us," Carle said. "There was head basketball for Mike and head volleyball, so it was just kind of a professional thing at that time. Getting back to Montana was the goal."
Thus ended Carle's basketball career, as volleyball took off. It didn't take her long to figure it out - Carle's Falcons played in back-to-back state championships within four seasons, winning it all in 1996. She of course won't take any credit.
"I know this, and I think anybody else that's been around athletics - your teams are not going to be successful unless you have great assistant coaches, and I've had some of the best ever," she said.
But Carle also saw a lot of change in Montana prep volleyball. First, moving the sport from the winter to the fall.
"I think it was the best thing for the sport," Carle said. "It really messed up my Bobcat football games and it really messed up my fall fishing, but it was absolutely the right thing to do for the sport."
Carle also saw the beginning of the all-class state tournament in Bozeman, which she enjoys, but can't help but fondly remember a Class AA-only format that produced some incredible moments, like playing Butte High in Butte for the state title on St. Patrick's Day.
"Everybody came in with shamrocks on their face, the players had shamrocks, Reece had shamrocks, the head coach," Carle said with a smile. "I look back now - the fan in me looked at it, and it was a fantastic atmosphere. Crazy. You know how Butte is on St. Patty's Day - need I say more?"
Carle's ultimate memory, though, will always be pink. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-40s, Carle's team wanted to throw a fundraiser for her, which they dubbed Pack the Place in Pink. Twelve years later, the organization has given away almost $500,000 and spawned countless sister events across Montana, which Carle can't wait to be a part of.
"I am not retiring from that," she said. "We are having some major growing pains, because it's getting so big and so special. We'll kind of go in some different directions, but as long as Skyview wants to wear pink, we will make sure Skyview has pink."
Carle has plenty herself - a closet full, mixed in with her other favorites.
"I'll always be loyal to royal. I always will. I'll always be a Bobcat. I'll always be Pack the Place in Pink, and I'll always be a Three Forks Wolf," she said.
Carle says she's excited to get more fishing time in while her husband and sons hunt. But you can guarantee she'll be in the Skyview stands as often as possible next season.