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Written by The Herald-News Sunday, 27 February 2011 08:14
Three former Wolf Point student/athletes and two legendary Wolf Point coaches were honored and recognized at a touching and moving ceremony in the Wolves' Den Feb. 5 that kept the crowd on its feet throughout the program.
Large banners were placed at midcourt of the gym recognizing the accomplishments of athletes Bob Parsley, Bill Smith and Willie Weeks and coaches Bob Lowry Sr. and Gene Nelson.
The most moving part of the ceremony held between the girls’ and boys’ varsity games against Baker was perhaps when audience members were asked to come down to the court and stand in tribute to their former coaches and teammates.
Lines of dozens of former students and athletes came down to the floor to pay homage to Nelson and Lowry.
Lowry coached the Wolves from 1942 through 1965 and amassed a 468-162 record, while winning five state basketball championships.
Lowry also led the Wolves to 11 football conference championships in his 15 years as head football coach. Three of his football teams were undefeated and, from 1941 through 1952, his football teams won the Eastern Montana B playoffs five times.
"Although Lowry was known statewide for his basketball teams, his football coaching record was phenomenal," said Wolf Point School superintendent Henry Hamill, who emceed the hall of fame ceremony. "Many times as a coach, I asked myself how Coach Lowry would handle this situation and always it came down to Bob Lowry taught respect, he demanded it. He gave it and he demanded it in return.
"He taught respect, he taught academics first, and he taught character. No wonder everyone called him the dean of Montana coaches."
Lowry, who died in 1965, was inducted into the Montana Coaches Hall of Fame in 1982.
"The thing about Coach Lowry was that he was much more than a coach," Hamill said. "His athletes and his students tell us that he was a superb teacher and was highly respected during his years as principal at Wolf Point High School. His organizational skills, both as an administrator and as a coach, were exceptional. Lowry was a devoted father and family man and devout Christian."
The first person recognized at the Feb. 5 ceremony was Bill Smith, a member of the 1960-61 and 1961-62 state champion Wolves’ basketball teams, who appeared in person.
Smith, an inductee into the Montana Native American Athlete Hall of Fame, set the single-game scoring record for Wolf Point High School in 1964 when he scored 47 points against Glendive, despite the absence of the 3-point shot in those days and being taken out of the game in the third quarter.
Hamill said many coaches consider Smith as one of the most pure shooters in Montana basketball history
"Bill 'Hook Shot' Smith was as good with a 10- to 15-foot hook shot as he was with a 10- to 15-foot jump shot," Hamill said.
Parsley, a member of three state tournament teams from 1961 through 1963, was next to be honored and appeared with his mother, Violet.
Parsley was also inducted into the Montana Native American Athlete Hall of Fame, helped the Wolves win the state B tournament in 1961 and 1962 and went on to play at Carroll College and Northern Montana College and was selected an All-Frontier Conference player three years.
"Bob Parsley brought athletes to the table and made people deal with him," Hamill said. "At one point, Bob owned five track records at Wolf Point. In all of the late-night conversations I've had about who was the best athlete to come out of Wolf Point High School, Bob Parsley's name always comes to the front. Bob is a special person. He is a ‘Cool Hand Luke’ and sets an example for our youth to follow."
Parsley went on to work 23 years for the Montana Office of Public Instruction as the Indian education specialist.
The late Willie Weeks, an inductee of both the Montana Native American Athlete and Montana High School Association halls of fame, was recognized next, as three family members represented him.
Weeks, a member of the Assiniboine/Sioux Tribes and an All-American prep player, was on Wolf Point's 1967-68 and 1968-69 teams that posted a 43-8 record and won the Big 32 state championship in 1968.
Weeks went on to play at Montana State University, where he holds the fourth-best scoring average.
"Willie also was a stand-out football player at Wolf Point, making the East-West Shrine football game in 1969," Hamill said. "Willie went to play at Montana State for two years. He was a strong player who could beat you from the outside and take you inside and use his size and strength.
"He was a close and dear friend, and I miss him."
The late Nelson was both a gifted athlete and coach at Wolf Point High School.
Nelson lettered in basketball, football and track at W.P.H.S. from 1959 through 1961 and also played American Legion baseball before playing college basketball at Montana State University - Bozeman.
While in high school, Nelson played on three divisional championship football teams, on the state B championship basketball team in his senior year and on three divisional track championship teams. He was all-conference in football and basketball his junior and senior years and won two divisional championships in high hurdles.
After teaching a few years in Nashua, Nelson returned to Wolf Point in 1970 where he coached and taught until his retirement in 1998.
"Coach Nelson's greatest joys were the achievements of his athletes," Hamill said. "Whether a state championship or a personal best for an aspiring cross-country runner, Coach Nelson delighted in proving to young people what hard work and dedi- cation could mean in their lives."
Nelson's teams won state titles in girls’ track in 1986 and 1987 and were state runner-ups in boys’ cross country in 1994 and boys’ track in 1995.
Nelson was honored as coach of the year by the Montana Coaches Association in 1987 and he was inducted into the Montana Coaches Hall of Fame in 1998.
This spring, the first annual Gene Nelson Memorial Track Meet will be held at Wolf Point High School.
"I knew Gene as a friend, fellow coach and good guy," Hamill said. "Gene was a fine competitor. I thought his best game was football, but his character was his strength. If Gene gave you his word, it was golden and I miss his leadership."
All five of the athletes and coaches, or their family representatives, were presented plagues during the ceremony.
The ceremony included the presentation of replica trophies of the five state basketball championship trophies that were destroyed in the high school fire of 1967, which were donated by Hamill, who said 44 years without the trophies was long enough.
The trophies and other athletic championships are now on display in the high school multipurpose room in a trophy case recently made by Wolf Point students.