Text by Claire Baiz
It’s been less than twenty-four hours since Josh Parocai got out of the Cascade County Detention Center, and he’s sweating it out with a heavy implement dealer, a retired lawyer, a senior airman, and the Director of Development at the University of Great Falls.
Half of them have their shirts off. For a few, it ain’t pretty.
By 12:30, sixteen players have joined Parocai on the basketball court at the Great Falls Rec Center, 801 2nd Avenue North. There are four black guys, at least two Native Americans, a handsome dark skinned blue-eyed guy, a spectrum of Christians and Agnostics, a second-generation American Muslim, and a woman. Their ages range from 20 to 66.
“It’s the best pickup game in town,” says Kylie Diedrich, a former UGF Lady Argo. Diedrich is just another player—except, in a game of shirts and skins, you can be pretty sure which team she’s on.
Milt Mitchell, a solid Iraq war veteran, shoots hoops at the far end of the court until he rotates in. Milt works at the prison in Shelby. The two twenty-year-olds, a nursing student and his buddy from the barley malt plant, are newcomers. They’re pale as hell but they can play.
Every basket is worth one point. First team to get eight wins. Most games are whip-fast—and unless they’re shy a sweaty body, the rule is “play two, sit one.” These five-on-five sessions are so popular that games sometimes spill into a second session, from 1 to 2 p.m.
If players don’t call early to make the roster, it’s easy to get shut out.
Great Falls Public Works Director Jim Rearden, 64, had a heart attack on this court. Eight weeks later he was back, strapping on his knee brace. That was a long time ago, and Rearden’s still playing hard. Harley Huestis, 41, works ten blocks away, at the family construction business.
Tom Baiz, 66, shares some great stories. A few guys have been handcuffed and hauled away in the middle of a game. Some players wear ankle bracelets. One ‘shirt,’ years ago, nearly strangled an opposing ‘skin,’ courtside. “I’ve taken rib shots where I can’t breathe for a few days,” Baiz laughs.
Drama is rare these days, though nicknames (and the occasional ball-hogger) persist. There’s a lanky fellow, aptly called ‘Bones’, a developmentally disabled guy who Diedrich named ‘The Glove,’ and a former player, who was dubbed ‘Tragic Johnson.’
Players call their own fouls. Someone hollers out the score after every basket. No one bickers; complaints are rare. Sure, it’s competitive, but everyone’s there to have a fun workout. No one cares if you’re a lawyer, if that’s your fancy rig in the parking lot—or if there are criminal charges pending.
Politicians continue to bicker. The news spews fire. On Mondays and Fridays at the Rec Center, it’s good to see everyone get along.