EAST HELENA — East Helena High School opened its doors in 2020 with approximately 250 freshmen and sophomores taking classes in the new building.
Those freshmen are now seniors and have helped the Vigilantes build their boys and girls basketball programs.
Current Lady Vigilantes, senior, Bailey Bergum is born and raised East Helena, “The seniors from last year leaving, that was a pretty big change, they were in the program the entire, like, all my basketball career, so just adjusting after that,” Bergum started playing for the Vigilantes as a timid 8th grader.
“I think our seniors and our older kids have done an amazing job setting the expectations and the standards of what we want to build here,” said East Helena girls basketball coach Carson Bender.
Janelle Taylor, a junior on the girls team, started playing basketball in middle school and spoke about the strength of all her coaches.
“Mr. Bender really welcomed me in, all of our coaches did such a great job at building our program, they had such a unique opportunity, it’s been really cool to watch them grow as coaches as we grow as a team,” said Taylor.
Bender and boys coach Ty Ridgeway have taken on the roles of leading and building their teams from the ground up. It's been a process, as last year's seniors were the first to graduate from the high school.
“With that first senior group we had, they didn’t have any leaders ahead of them to lead them," Ridgeway said. "I think we’ve got three great seniors this year that are doing a great job with leadership because they followed behind that group of seniors. They’re catching on, they’re buying in, they're very coachable, they work hard.”
Tucker Petty, a senior, moved to East Helena as a freshmen to play for the Vigilantes.
“It was weird because I didn’t have any friends at first, but they just welcomed me in and ever since I’ve felt like family,” he said. “It’s cool, it’s like the new guys in town, just nice to kind of show everybody what we’ve got.”
The Vigilantes will tip off their 2023-24 seasons Saturday against Butte Central at 3 p.m. The East Helena boys will play at home again on Dec. 8 versus Havre but won’t be back in their home gym again until Jan. 23 when they host Jefferson.
The girls will get a few more early season home games than the boys. After they play Havre, Browning comes to East Helena on Dec. 19.