MISSOULA — Wednesday night we celebrated in Missoula once again. The 61st Annual KPAX Sports Awards Banquet brought together the best from all sports across the Garden City.
A record crowd of more than 400 came out to honor some special individuals, and Missoula native Jim McElwain returned to his hometown to serve as our guest speaker.
The former Sentinel High School and Eastern Washington quarterback has spent more than 30 years as a college football coach, working his way up from an assistant at his alma mater and Montana State to Alabama and eventually head coaching jobs at Colorado State, Florida, and his new gig at Central Michigan.
McElwain spoke of his great pride to come from a place like Missoula and said the best part of coaching is having a positive influence on the lives of young people.
Then we honored some of the most impressive high school seniors in Missoula, the student-athletes of the year. Sentinel’s Ashley McElmurry won the girls honor. The Spartan track star has won medals 10 times at state meets and expects several more next week. She’ll run at Nebraska next track season but has also competed in soccer and basketball while carrying a 3.78 GPA at Sentinel.
The boys student-athlete of the year award went to Loyola’s Cooper Waters. The star receiver will play football for Montana Tech next year. He also played basketball, track and golf for the Rams. Waters set a Montana High School Association record with three punt returns touchdowns in one game and also raced to a 3.99 GPA at Loyola.
The Honors Court also handed out some deserving awards to adults in Missoula. The Ray Rocene Sportsman of the Year goes to an outstanding volunteer in the community. Former University of Montana athletic director Jim O’Day received the prestigious honor. O’Day has remained active in many fundraising events for athletics around the city, but he was particularly noticed for his work to make the Special Olympic Summer Games a success in Missoula from 2015-17.
The Ed Chinske Award given to the coach of the year went to Dan Nile. He started his coaching career at Arlee 34 years ago. Nile has spent the past 18 years at Big Sky, serving as the Eagles head track coach and offensive coordinator on the football sideline. Nile has been named Montana Coaches Association coach of the year three times and went into the MCA Hall of Fame in 2017.
And the Campbell-Buzzetti award went to Nancy Deden. Her daughter Karen accepted the honor on her behalf. Deden has worked as a pioneer for women’s athletics since the early 1970s. She was instrumental in pushing for the implementation of Title IX reforms in the state.
Congratulations to all of the winners.