Warriors play with heavy hearts headed into Class C MHSA Tournament

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HAMILTON — The Arlee Warriors are playing for something bigger than themselves as they prepare to enter the first-round game against Belt at the MHSA Class C state tournament at 2 pm. Thursday afternoon at the Butte Civic. Warriors Phillip Malatare and Will Mesteth, along with the rest of their team and coaching staff, know this isn’t just another postseason basketball team. They are playing for those whose hopes, dreams and lives of people in their community that vicariously feed of their team’s energy.

According to the Warriors’ coach Zanen Pitts, his team is mature enough to know its significance to the community and to their reservation as the Warriors prepare to try to bring home their second consecutive MHSA state title.

“We put on ourselves that God gave these talents to these kids and we’ve put it in God’s hands as playing basketball is the skill-set that they’ve been given,” Pitts said. “If they use their skills in the right way, they might be able to save a couple of lives and change some hearts. Our players are humble enough and have a good enough grasp of life it isn’t going to be the end of the world if we don’t win. The sun is going to come up and our family is going to be there.”

During the playoffs, the Warriors released a public-service announcement raising awareness for those that are despaired, depressed and lost. Hoping maybe through the platform of basketball, they can change the course of someone’s life.

As the video was shared throughout the Mission Valley, it’s reach and message spread far and wide to an arbitrary estimate of nearly 250,000 viewers when it was published after their big 69-60 semifinal victory over a powerful Manhattan Christian team in the semifinal of the Western Class C Divisional Tournament Friday night at Hamilton High School.

“Their love for life has been able to put them in a different direction and they are able to use basketball to be able to touch the world and the country in a different way,” Pitts said. This game isn’t about us. It’s about those who have supported us. Our kids can dig a little bit deeper than most kids can dig.”

The powerful suicide-awareness video that circulated throughout social media has the Warriors on a different mission.

Star players Phil Malatare and Will Mesteth understand there is a bigger purpose than the game and winning the MHSA Class C state championship in a hard-fought 71-67 victory over Manhattan Christian proved that.

“The game is a lot bigger than we think,” Malatare said. “We have kids that are looking up to us now. There are a lot more than ever people going to our games and the crowd has packed the gym. This could be something special and our community wants to be part of it.”

Mesteth, who was introduced to the game by Malatare’s parents when he started playing in Little Dribblers at the Arlee Community Center, said that is when he fell in love with the game of basketball. He knows his team is playing for something bigger.

Pitts continues to encourage his team to remember they are playing for the entire community of Arlee as his team approaches some of its biggest games of the season starting with their first-round game against Belt Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Butte Civic Center.

“There is way more for this group of boys to play for than anyone else,” Pitts said. “What do these people have to go watch? Our players know they are playing for a higher purpose. The kids have the belief and they know there is a bigger reason that they’ve been given the talent they have.”

With more than the game of basketball on their minds, the Arlee Warriors will have a chance to once again bestow positiivity on their community in their quest to bring a state title home.

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