LEWISTOWN - Each year in Lewistown there's a rich summer tradition of going to bat, so to speak, for youth sports. And it starts on the Pine Meadows Golf Course.
Murray Brumwell spent seven years as a defenseman in the National Hockey League. He and former NHL buddy Greg Smith are sort of a two-for-one deal every summer volunteering as celebrities to play in the Lewistown Charity Golf Classic.
"The first couple years he asked me (to play) and I said, Oh, I've got stuff going on," Brumwell recalled to MTN Sports. "Then I got up here and said, I can't believe you didn't ask me sooner."
Offensive lineman Ron Heller played 12 years in the NFL. He's admittedly not the best celebrity golfer in the field, but he may be the best storyteller.
"I get asked to repeat a lot of the (NFL) stories and the whole drive up here I'm thinking, I've got to come up with some new stories. I've got to tell some that somebody hasn't heard. But apparently, I talk a lot and they've heard them all. So, I keep getting asked to repeat them, and I will."
Heller says he's over 20 years into playing this tournament. But the event actually started almost 40 years ago as the Jim Perry Celebrity Classic. Lewistown's Jim Rutherford is a big reason it's still thriving.
"Jim Perry was a good friend of Hank Hanson in town and they went out to the Legion park and Jim said, well, you guys need to get a better Legion field. So, he (Perry) is the one that actually started this and all the money went to the Legion (baseball program)."
Later, as local residents showed more interest, they brought ideas on where else tournament money might be able to help, always focused on youth sports and venues around town.
"And back then we would only get maybe $3000 or $4000," Rutherford recalled. "Last year we donated back $11,000.”
Through the years it’s transitioned from national to mostly Montana celebrities. Frank Thompson, who split time between Billings and Lewistown and helps annually with the tournament, explains why.
"Jim (Perry) was kind of aging a bit, the tournament was aging a bit, so we decided to come up with a new idea."
"It cost so much to fly all the celebrities out here, we weren't giving much back to the community," Rutherford said. "So, we started a local celebrity (tourney)."
"Montana sports people who have done wonderfully in the world of sports," Thompson continued. "We put some feelers out around the state and found a lot of folks that were willing to come up here and help us out."
They've included collegiate coaches and athletes, newspaper writers and sportscasters (Brent Musburger among them). Major League Baseball, NHL and NFL players. Heller even dragged in his Super Bowl winning buddy Jim McMahon, quarterback of the Chicago Bears, to Pine Meadows one year.
For those wondering where this annual tournament rates for local celebs who volunteer their time, Heller was invited by friend and NFL offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to attend Mornhinweg's Saturday induction to Montana Football Hall of Fame in Billings -- and had to decline.
"I worked with him with the New York Jets and I think the world of him, and I really wanted to be there to support him," Heller said. "But I'd already committed to come here and this is something that I've been coming to since 1998."
PGA player Tom Weiskopf stopped by a couple years ago and even helped redesign the difficult par 3 sixth hole at Pine Meadows -- still saddled with a giant tree in front of the green.
"And Tom said he'd never played a par 3, dogleg right (hole)," Thompson recalled with a smile, "so, we've left the tree, but we've expanded the green."
Now, organizers estimate a dozen venues benefit from the Charity Classic including Lewistown's high school softball complex, which also houses Montana's Softball Hall of Fame. Kids are seeing improvements to the local swimming pool, water slides and the nearby skate park, the ice rink, and Fergus' high school golf program. Naturally, the Legion baseball field is greatly improved and construction is underway on a new soccer field southwest of town.
Golfers even chipped in for a new all-purpose pavilion just off Main Street, which celebrated its grand opening with food trucks and live bands on Saturday -- coincidentally, the same day as this year's classic.
Guessing at a dollar amount kicked in to the community over the last four decades, Rutherford estimates probably half a million dollars."
But kids are still at the heart of this tournament, a valid reason many of the golfers, sponsors and celebs are, too.
"It brings me back to when I was growing up and all the people that helped me out to get where I was going," Brumwell said.
"We all played as kids," said Heller. "I was in organized sports when I was seven years old, all the way through. Money is a big issue and if you can give a kid a break buy supplying some equipment and stuff like that, it's a good cause."