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Sunday Conversation: Former Malta, Carroll star Kirk Stiles recalls fire, winning culture

Posted at 9:00 AM, Nov 29, 2020

MALTA — Fans of Class B sports in the 1990s will almost certainly recall Kirk Stiles. The Malta standout was a major part on two state basketball championships (1995-96 and 1997-98) and a football state championship (1996).

With those two titles, Stiles and Malta proved a lot can be accomplished even under strange circumstances. Stiles played most of his home basketball games in Dodson and Saco after a fire burned down Malta’s school on Christmas Eve 1995, though the old gym still stands today. The current Malta facility wasn't ready for use until after Stiles graduated.

Stiles played basketball for Carroll from 1999-2002 and was inducted into the Saints Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016. During his time at Carroll, the Saints went to the NAIA national tournament twice. Stiles holds five 3-point records for Carroll: career 3-point attempts (874), career 3-pointers made (363), attempts in a season (312), makes in a season (136) and attempts in a game (16).

He’s also seventh in Carroll’s all-time scoring list with 1,757 points.

Today, Stiles resides in Malta with his wife and children. MTN Sports sat down with Stiles recently to discuss growing up in Malta, his time at Carroll, and what's next.

(Editor’s note: The video conversation has been abbreviated.The full transcript is below)

MTN Sports: Start us off from the beginning, what's your earliest memory of the sport of basketball?

Kirk Stiles: "Well, I guess I don't know if it's a memory. But as my parents used to tell me, when I was about 2 years old living out on the ranch, my dad put our first hoop up. And when I was about 2 years old, and I would just play and play and play til I was sweaty. So I guess that kind of stands out as far as kind of when I got started."

MTN Sports: Your dad, Craig, was quite the athlete for Malta as well. Describe the culture of sports in the town of Malta. You go to the gym, and you see all these banners, all these trophies everywhere. What's it like to grow up in a town like that?

Stiles: "I guess you really don't notice it much when you're in a grade school type setting. But once you get older, maybe sixth, seventh, eighth grade, you start recognizing that more. I don’t know, being an athlete I mean, that's kind of what you strive for. And we've been kind of blessed with a lot of athletes to come out of this town, and everybody's very, very competitive. So it makes it easy -- I mean, as far as getting challenged every single day. So it's been a blessing as far as that goes."

MTN Sports: Which one was your favorite?

Stiles: "I think it was basketball growing up. It seemed like everybody that was doing sports, or playing sports, they were doing kind of all the all-four thing: basketball, football, track. In my senior year, golf finally came around for the boys. So I did all four then. It was kind of fun. We got out a little bit, a little more school. So that was good. But I mean, I loved everything ever since a kid. I wanted to do everything under the sun. If there was a sport being played, I wanted to play it. That's just kind of what I thrived in. I mean, we don't have video games nowadays, or back then anyway, I should say, so that was kind of what you did growing up."

MTN Sports: When you think about that 1996 season, what comes to mind for you?

Stiles: "First of all, fire. Hectic, kind of. I wouldn't say trying, but it was. I mean, you had to travel for practice every day until they finally got this (new gym). This gym here opened up to where we could actually practice in here. I guess the whole community coming together. It made it pretty easy because when we did travel for our home games to Dodson or Saco, I mean, the places were packed, obviously, because they were not very big gyms. It was fun, actually, because that's a different kind of setting."

MTN Sports: What was the timeline of that fire? When were you able to kind of start the season? It happened around Christmas, is that correct?

Stiles: "Correct. It was Christmas Eve. So yeah, we had what, maybe four or five games under our belt, if I remember, right. I mean, I think that's how many you had right before then. Or six games or somewhere in there. But I can remember playing a few games in here before that happened."

MTN Sports: Then in '98 you guys go back to state and win another one. And tell me about that team and the differences between the two titles.

Stiles: "Well, I guess one big difference to me was, I guess the Metra itself. When I was a sophomore, that's when we won the title in the Metra against Fairfield. You know, as a kid growing up, I used to watch tournaments there, and I'm like, 'Gosh, man, that'd be fun to win a title in that big place.' And I that's what I can kind of remember. I mean, the place, it wasn't packed, but it's kind of hard to pack that place. So as far as, I guess, the talent, it was quite a bit different. I mean, we had a few younger kids playing when I was a senior. When I was a sophomore, it was mostly upperclassmen. So I don't know, I think winning a state championship, that was your goal as a kid, young kid growing up, especially in a town like this, and both of them were pretty special to me."

MTN Sports: Were you on the football one in '96 as well?

Stiles: "Yes, I was a quarterback during that season, and yeah, we had a we had a run there. Even in the early 90s, we had some good teams. ... I'm trying to figure out which one it was, but when I was a sophomore, we got all the way to the semifinals. We lost by I believe it was two to get into the championship. My junior year we we actually won it. And then my senior year, we lost by one to get into the championship. So we had a pretty good stretch, right? There were one call or one play. I mean, it could have turned into a pretty good thing."

MTN Sports: You said basketball is your favorite. But do you think if had things gone a little differently, do you think maybe football would have changed your mind on it?

Stiles: "Oh, there's a lot of thought. I mean, because I had a lot of scholarships for football, basketball, track. I don't know, it's just something about basketball that, I guess the intimacy of the whole gym and everybody being so close. I mean, there's no better high than that, you know, playing in a big game and you hear the crowd cheering and stuff. But you know, I did get looked at by Montana State and the (University of Montana) Grizzlies. Could have went about anywhere I wanted in the Frontier (Conference), so it was it was kind of a hard decision, especially when you got coach (Scott) King. I mean, the legendary coach King, talking to you about football and what your possibilities could be, so yeah, I mean, it was tough, because I love both sports."

MTN Sports: You’re a Carroll Hall of Famer as of 2016. And maybe that speaks for itself, but are you glad high school Kirk ended up picking Carroll and basketball ultimately?

Stiles: "You can't be you can't be bitter about that. Obviously, as a young kid, you want to go a little bit higher than what you set your goals at, but Carroll turned out to be an awesome place for me. I met a lot of great people, a lot of great coaches. And I had a pretty awesome career there. So I was very thankful for it."

MTN Sports: You still hold quite a few 3-point categories at that school. Is there a particular game or season that really stood out to you?

Stiles: "There's a lot of games that kind of stand out. But there was a game against Westminster, my junior year. We're playing for the conference championship down in Westminster. And if you ever been in Westminster, it's about the size of the city hall in Malta, if you know what size the city hall looks like, but it's tiny. But it was a close game, they had an awesome team that year. And it came down basically to the last play. And I ended up stripping the MVP of the league that year. I stripped him on his final shot. And he came down and fouled me and I iced it with a few free throws. And that's one game that actually stands out a lot to me because we put in a lot of work that year to to get to where we wanted to be. So that was one of the games anyway."

MTN Sports: So all this emphasis on sports growing up in Malta and whatnot, what is Kirk Stiles up to these days?

Stiles: "Well, wife and kids and a job. Well, I think most most people just understand where I'm coming from. It's different. I mean, ever since college got over, graduated. You have these tournaments, every now and then, the spring tournaments that you can play competitively. But after that, you never really get to. I don't know. You play your whole life to kind of feel that feeling of what you get out of a basketball game, whether it be a football game or a golf game, the competitive side of sports, but you never really get that anymore. So that was kind of hard for me, actually, right after it happened. But nowadays, it's just kids and wife, mostly kids. You try to make those guys happy to have a better life than you did growing up, which would be kind of hard because it was pretty great for me. But I wouldn't change it for the world."

MTN Sports: Did you ever think about coaching at all? Was that ever on your mind?

Stiles: "Not right when it was over. And it took a long time to find out I really missed it that much. In like the past five years, I've thought about it a lot. I don't share that with a lot of people. But I think in the future I see maybe trying to get into it. There was a lot of people that gave to my career, taught me a lot of things, so it'd be nice to be able to give back to some of the other kids. They're going to probably look at me like the old guy in the room, they can think I know what I'm talking about. But that's kind of life. Every kid goes through it. But to answer your question, yeah, I've thought about it a lot. And who knows, maybe we'll strap the coaching shoes on and get in the ring, I guess."