though, the atmosphere is good-time, low-key. There is still room among the
giants for a team like the "Joint Effort" of Missoula, a scruffy band
of basketball pretenders. "We're just good old Montana boys," says
Wayne Sletten, the bearded player-coach-toast-master. "We're outclassed and
we know it, but we don't care. We close the bars every night."
The fans enjoy
talking to the players and screaming and hooting, but they really don't care
who wins, either. "You can't get too excited about whether a hotel can beat
a pizza joint," says one local citizen. By the end of the week talk has
invariably switched to the monster paddle-fish spawning in the nearby Missouri
River. Governor Thomas Judge arrived on the last night of the 1976 tournament
and stated that Montanans are absolutely "crazy about basketball."
Then, for good measure, he threw a pie in a Jaycee's face.
With an area
twice as large as New England and a population one-fifth the size of the Boston
area's, it seems reasonably certain that Montana will never be the hard-core
basketball state some of the natives tend to think it is. But the big blue sky
and pristine mountains can become mundane to someone who sees them daily, and a
wild basketball tourney becomes an attractive alternative.
celebration, sure," says Kirk Maxwell, who drives up each year from
Billings for the WIT. "But with all the huge, talented people around, it's
also very humbling."
Tom Blackwell, a
WIT participant whose home is in a tough black neighborhood in Chicago, admits
he was "scared" when he went to Montana to go to school. Now, however,
he appreciates Big Sky country. "I never had much of a chance for the
outdoors back in the city," he says. "You just don't get a lot of fresh
air on the South Side."