Arlee celebrates Warriors’ first state basketball title

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  • THE ARLEE boys basketball team celebrated at their parade Sunday afternoon after they defeated Manhattan Christian 71-67 in the Class-C state basketball tournament Saturday. (Photo by Logan Lefler/Special to the Lake County Leader)

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    THE ARLEE boys basketball team is honored Sunday after getting off the bus, returning from winning the Class-C boys basketball state championship. The Warriors won the championship by defeating Manhattan Christian 71-67 Saturday night at the Montana State University Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. (Photo by Logan Lefler/Special to the Lake County Leader)

  • THE ARLEE boys basketball team celebrated at their parade Sunday afternoon after they defeated Manhattan Christian 71-67 in the Class-C state basketball tournament Saturday. (Photo by Logan Lefler/Special to the Lake County Leader)

  • 1

    THE ARLEE boys basketball team is honored Sunday after getting off the bus, returning from winning the Class-C boys basketball state championship. The Warriors won the championship by defeating Manhattan Christian 71-67 Saturday night at the Montana State University Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. (Photo by Logan Lefler/Special to the Lake County Leader)

The Arlee Warriors basketball team’s quest for a championship began about a decade after they expanded from a one room, one teacher, 12-student school house in 1927 to building a gym that would become the “shining pearl” of the school in 1937 after the Log Cabin Bar, where the local theater and gym used to sit, burned to the ground in the 1930s.

To the current Warriors, this is all ancient history, but winning the championship was more than just about achieving their own dreams and success. It was about bringing the state title home for the community, according to Greg Whitesell.

“It was one of those moments that was breathtaking and you will never forget,” Whitesell said. “You just can’t pinpoint the feeling or describe it. It was just so quick. I remember running down the court and hugging my best friend Lane Schall, who helped me out for basketball so much. I just remember jumping into his arms.”

With Arlee making negative headlines in the press recently with prominent deaths and homicides, the Warriors capturing the state title with the 71-67 victory over Manhattan Christian was a sign of relief, according to Whitesell.

“It was probably one of the biggest things that have happened in the community, especially with it being such a rough month and people passing away,” Whitesell said. “We weren’t just doing it for ourselves. We felt we had to make it for the whole community. The parade really touched our community.”

Warriors’ coach Zanen Pitts said the victory is a positive for the community, and he and his team were determined to bring positivity to the city of Arlee.

“A lot of this goes back to what your uncle created for you when you were four, five, and six, what your dad created for you, and then you created for yourself,” Pitts said. “You were put in a powerful spot and you created this. Now it goes back a lot to when your parents signed you up for Little Dribblers, and hopefully getting kids into the gym and away from anything like drugs, alcohol, and video games. Sports is a positive. A basketball in your hand is a positive and something that is going to better your life.”

Pitts credits the determination of his starting five.

“We weren’t going to lose, not a chance, because those five weren’t going to let it happen,” Pitts declared. “Whatever we had to do, we weren’t going to let it happen. We were going to win.”

For Whitesell, one of five starters and one that Pitts describes as a quiet player that does his job, it has finally sunk in that his team has captured the title.

“It hit me last night,” Whitesell said. “I think our seniors, who I will never be able to play with again, took me in as family. It’s rough losing them. We will have to rebuild for next year and try to repeat. All of the Arlee fans and everyone came to support us. I love everyone and everyone out there. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

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