Terrier Pride

A lot of tears…but no giving up
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
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The 2019-2020 Terry girls basketball team, from left to right, back row: Assistant coach Jennifer Grey Eagle, Tayler Wagner, Isis Keltner, Madison Dykstra, Olivia Chaska and head coach Jason Grey Eagle. Front row: Alyssa Chaska, Sarah Dyer and Galiya Askarova. Submitted Photo

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Jason Grey Eagle confronts his “biggest worry” with a daily ritual.

“I’m always trying to find inspiration. I start every practice by writing down a different motivational quote on a white board,” said Grey Eagle, head coach of Terry High’s winless girls basketball team.

“As long as they don’t give up on themselves or their team, that’s all I’m asking,” said Grey Eagle.

Reeling from recent 75-0 and 65-3 defeats to unbeaten Melstone, the shorthanded Lady Terriers, 0-14, have a lot to overcome. They might be the youngest and smallest high school team in the state. Two eighth graders and a freshman start. The team’s average height is about 5-foot-5.

Grey Eagle, in his first season, inherited a program near rockbottom.

A number of pre-season transfers left him with seven players, three of them eighthgraders. The rest: one freshman, a junior, a senior and foreign exchange student (Galiya Askarova, who never played basketball in her home country of Kazakhstan). She’s also a senior.

The starting five is so young it’s likely never been duplicated in Terry’s sports-rich history: Tayler Wagner, 8th grade; Sarah Dyer, 8th grade; Madison Dykstra, freshman; Olivia Chaska, junior; and Alyssa Chaska, senior. Reserves: Isis Keltner, 8th grade, and Askarova.

“The two transfers we lost had the most shots. Now we’re going to players who are not used to taking shots,” Grey Eagle explained.

Confidence and shooting efficiency takes time.

Grey Eagle, 39, grew up in South Dakota, Sioux country. According to family lore, he said the Grey Eagles are descendants of the great chief Sitting Bull.

“My family has a long family tradition” of military service, all the way back to the late 1800s, he said.

He proudly recalled a warrior moment. With the winds of war blowing after the World Trade Center terror attacks, “My recruiter called and asked if (9-11) had changed my mind.” No, Grey Eagle said.

Months later, in his early 20s, he continued the tradition by joining the Army’s 82nd airborne infantry. He was deployed in Afghanistan for six months, on mountain missions while the U.S. was pursuing Osama Bin Laden, architect of the Sept. 11, 2001 airline attacks.

He’s seen “a lot of tears of frustration” from errant shots and overwhelming competition. Melstone, one of the smallest schools in the state, had a 50-0 halftime lead last week in its 75-0 rout. A smothering defense held the Terriers to just 14 shots, down from their usual 25. Melstone’s sophomore star Draya Wacker scored 35 points and “could have scored 50 if they kept her in,” said Grey Eagle.

It was the worst defeat by a Terry team in 106 years. In 1914, the “Pop” Grandey-coached, six-member Terry team was among the 31-school all-class tournament at what is now Montana State University in Bozeman. Teams didn’t have to qualify then. Have team, will travel.

The Terriers arrived by train at 5:20 a.m. after a noisy all-night ride on the rails. “The day was spent in dread and anxiety awaiting the game (against Great Falls) they expected to receive a terrible beating and which they were eventually given,” according to an account in the Terry Tribune.

Terry got thrashed 108-2 in the David vs. Goliath matchup, with 6-foot-4 forward Raymond Fake scoring a record-smashing 50 points. (Surprisingly the feat didn’t warrant a mention in state newspapers at the time.)

That wasn’t the case in 1970. It was huge news when Kalispell’s 6-foot-10 Brent Wilson poured in 51 in an 80-63 win over Helena High in the title game for the Class AA title, a piece of history I covered during my sportswriting years).

Grey Eagle missed the 75-0 loss last Friday. He stayed home to take care of a sick child, his youngest. His assistant coach, his wife, Jennifer, handled coaching duties that night. Her real job brought them to Terry. She’s the town’s ambulance coordinator.

Growing up in Lemmon, S.D., Grey Eagle gravitated toward basketball after his father coached him up. He didn’t get a lot of playing time “but I played my part. I plugged in where they needed me and did my best.”

Elementary education appealed to him in his teens before life took him down many paths and put him in every job imaginable.

He pursued the Terry coaching job -- his first -- last summer because “I thought I could share the knowledge I had of basketball to a younger generation. See a need, fill a need. Help the program out.”

He’s committed to convincing his kids that lopsided losses and winless seasons don’t define them.

He still sees determination in their eyes, and the definition of Terrier Pride on the floor. “In two games,” he said, “we were down to five players and three were sick most of the game. We gave them the option to get a hold of the other school and see if we could reschedule. They wanted to play and they played their hearts out in those games.”

Despite the team’s record, community support remains high. He sees it in the encouraging posts on Facebook.

“A win would be good,” he said, “but I’d rather see them become successful members of the community than be a successful athlete.”

Back to that inspirational message board. Tuesday’s quote read: “What you do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” -- Dean Smith, North Carolina’s Hall of Fame basketball coach.

“They can see it all through practice,” said Grey Eagle. “I think it has helped them.”

Our ancestors, the Prairie County homesteaders who survived unre lenting hard times, might have said it in fewer words.

“Plow through it. Better times ahead.”

(Norm Clarke can be reached via email at normclarke@me.com. His website is www.norm.vegas.)