TOWNSEND — Norman Darlinton is making a return to coaching.
The former Three Forks girls basketball coach will take over the Townsend Bulldogs girls program next season after the school board approved the hire this week. Dan Chesnet, the sports editor of the Belgrade News, was the first to report the board’s approval.
“When (Townsend principal) Sheri Heavrin called me (Tuesday) night, she knew I was driving the Three Forks’ golf bus to state, she called me and it brought tears to my eyes,” Darlinton said. “There’s a lot of excitement and I can’t wait to get back to coaching. I already have the girls in a summer tournament in Dillon. You can’t be with the kids until June 1, we’re going to Dillon June 2 and I won’t know their names.”
Darlinton laughed at the idea of having his future players print their names on shirts for the tournament in Dillon but admits those summer tournaments will be a fun team-building experience for he and the athletes.
A 1976 graduate of Three Forks, Darlinton took over the Lady Wolves’ program in 2013 and coached the team for three seasons before stepping down in 2016. He coached a number of this season’s seniors, which captured the program’s first state championship since 1979, when they were freshmen and sophomores in the program. Current Wolves head coach Mike Sauvageau credited Darlinton on numerous occasions this season for building the program.
“When Coach Sauvageau came to Three Forks, he started the Little Wolves program,” Darlinton said. “I always helped with that and you get to know the kids starting in fourth grade. I coached this girls that are seniors now, I actually had them in junior high and then I had them when they were freshmen and sophomores. Those kids were a family, even in Little Wolves, it’s all one big family. We were just trying to get them to a state tournament some day. … It worked out as well as it possibly could have.”
Darlinton takes over a Townsend team that placed third at the State B tournament in March, defeating Deer Lodge 41-37 in the consolation game in Missoula. Townsend spent a majority of the season ranked No. 2 in Class B in the MontanaSports.com polls, losing three times to Three Forks, including the district championship. The Bulldogs fell to Colstrip in double overtime at the Southern B divisional tournament but battled back to a third-place finish and berth in the state tournament under former coach Dan Hazlett.
The Bulldogs return all-state forward Tavia Rooney, who averaged a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds during the regular season as a junior. She also posted three steals and two blocks per game. Townsend graduated a large number of contributing seniors, including Abby Leachman, Grace McDonnell, Catie Watson, McKenzie Woodward and Lainee Hill.
Darlinton says building around a player like Rooney is a great start but the Bulldogs’ roster goes well beyond its all-state forward.
“I think there’s enough talent around her that we don’t have to build only around her,” Darlinton said. “The other girls have all spent significant time in the gym. There were really good girls spending time on the bench (last season) because of how well their varsity was playing. We’re going to be far from a one-person team.”
Despite the two-year hiatus from coaching hoops, Darlinton is excited for the challenges that lie ahead, beginning next month with summer tournaments and camps, and laughs about the thought of dusting the cobwebs off of the playbooks that haven’t been used lately.
“No, no. My Twitter account has more college basketball coaches sending their one-liners every day or tweeting what’s important every day,” Darlinton said. “I think it’s going to be like riding a bicycle, it’s just going to be relatively easy to get back in the saddle and throwing out Xs and Os.”
The school board also approved co-athletic directors in Travis Rauh and principal Sheri Heavrin, but those contracts have yet to be signed.