The Tradition Begins
By CURT SYNNESS
The first mention of Mount Saint Charles basketball appeared in the Helena Daily Independent newspaper on February 17, 1912. It was reported that the Saints defeated the Montana College of Deer Lodge 41-18. The Hilltoppers lineup consisted of Stod, O’Donnell, Barrett, Wilson and Thrill.
The low score can be accounted for the rules of the era, where an actual jump ball was performed after every basket and every “jump ball” (two players hands on the ball simultaneously), as the clock continued to run.
Over the next four years Mount Saint Charles played a total of four games. It wasn’t until 1916-17 that the Saints participated in what could be considered a complete season. The Saints, coached by Father Scullen, went 6-1 in their first official season.
The next year the United States entered World War I, and only four games were contested over the next two seasons. The program took off in full force again in the fall of 1919, coached by former Helena High standout Bill Fluhr. MSC went 4-2, including a 15-8 victory over Gonzaga University.
When the University of Montana cancelled their meeting with the Hilltoppers, citing “St. Charles is not fast enough to compete with us,” coach Fluhr was very upset, according to Carroll College historian Marty Mouat.
Wins over the Grizzlies
But the 1920s saw the Saints give the Griz their come-uppance with two victories over Montana, in addition to losing a couple close games to the Montana State Bobcats.
In 1922, in a close 27-25 loss to Montana State College (now MSU), the Saints used a unique ploy that was soon afterwards deemed illegal, when coach Fluhr’s cagers took the floor after halftime dressed in similar uniform colors as the ‘Cats.
The next year, Mt. St. Charles beat the Montana State University (now UM) Grizzlies 27-11 in the old Hilltop gym. Sas Keane, a transfer from Creighton College, led the Saints with eight points. Keane originally gained national fame as the 100-yard dash champion at the Kansas relays.
In 1924, MSC dropped another two-point contest to the Bobcats 30-28.
After placing runner-up in the conference in 1925, two years later Mount Saint Charles captured its first official conference championship under coach Wilbur Eaton in 1927, when they went 8-8 overall, but were 5-1 versus league foes.
Eaton, a Notre Dame alumnus, directed the Hilltoppers over the next four seasons.
The Great Depression
The Saints best year prior to World War II took place in 1931-32. First-year coach John Good, who had competed for Mount Saint Charles High (yes, there used to be a Catholic prep school on the Hilltop) and College – guided his cagers to a 6-1 record.
Two of the club’s better hoopsters were Larry Scheewe of Helena, and Chick Garner, both of whom were standouts on the undefeated, untied, unscored upon 1931 Saints football team.
In the fall of 1932 the name of the school was changed to Carroll College. That year, coach Good directed the Saints to another win over the Montana Grizzlies, 39-34. Hilltoppers Tom O’Connor and William Nugent scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Basketball was discontinued on the Hilltop for the next two school years due to the hardships of the Great Depression, but the sport was renewed for the 1935-36 season.
This was the first season of the Montana College Conference (MCC), the precursor to the Frontier Conference.
In 1938, Jack Earls and Helena High alumnus Art Harrell became the school’s first basketball players to receive all-conference selections, making the MCC’s second and third teams, respectively.