The Big Sky Conference celebrated its inaugural class of Hall of Famers on Saturday at Davenport Grand, and Big Sky State was deservedly well represented.
Eight of the 14 members of the class attended the banquet, and of those eight, five played or coached for Montana or Montana State during their college careers. Even John Friesz – the only representative of the Idaho Vandals in the group – was born in Missoula.
Future classes promise to be more diverse in the institutions they represent — Eastern Washington had no alumni among the six Big Sky schools that were part of the inaugural class — but this first group includes many names whose notable careers have continued well beyond their time at the conference.
There was Jan Stenerud, the oldest inductee present and already a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He first moved from Norway to Montana State on a ski scholarship and later joined the football team right after the Big Sky Conference was formed in 1963.
“I know American football is a little bit better known than ski jumping in this country,” Stenerud, 79, said. “I am fully aware of that.”
Also in attendance was Bobcats athlete Ellie (Rudy) van Swearingen. She won the national indoor pole vault championship in 2007 and 2008 and, before the banquet, called the Big Sky a “special” conference.
“If someone says Big Sky Conference, I feel like we’re family,” she said. “I feel like we should know each other. Probably the same way you should feel about your alma mater.
Three Montana Grizzlies graduates are also part of the class: women’s basketball coach Robin Selvig, women’s basketball player Shannon (Cate) Schweyen and quarterback Dave Dickenson.
Dickenson averaged 316.5 yards per game for the Grizzlies from 1992-95, a number that ranks second on Big Sky’s career passing list. After a prolific career in the Canadian Football League as a player, he has been the head coach of the Calgary Stampeders – who are on the bye week – since 2016.
Selvig has spent his entire coaching career in Montana, where in 38 years, from 1978 to 2016, his teams won 865 games. This ranks 11th among women’s basketball coaches.
“It’s a hell of an honor,” said Selvig, who also played at Montana from 1970 to 1974, when Gonzaga was a conference member. “You look back (how the) Big Sky Conference has (allowed) women’s sports to have a platform and grow the way it has. It’s quite humbling and quite an honour.
Two-time Olympian Lopez Lomong and track and field coach Ron Mann attended and were among two of three northern Arizona representatives in the class, along with Olympic runner Angela Chalmers.
Lomong lives in Portland and hadn’t spent time in the Spokane area since competing against Eastern Washington in Cheney during his Big Sky career from 2005 to 2007. He was thrilled to be back for the ceremony. .
“I think it’s amazing. It’s a great celebration of our sport. Our sport is growing and it’s nice to be able to bring everyone together,” Lomong said, referring to the inductees who represent a variety of sports. “We are here to inspire younger generations. …Football players, basketball players, everyone together, that’s what the Big Sky Conference is all about.
Other inductees include Jack Friel, the conference’s first commissioner after whom the basketball court at Washington State University’s Beasley Coliseum is named. After coaching high school basketball in Colville and North Central, Friel coached the Washington State men’s basketball team from 1928 to 1958. He died in 1995 at age 97.
Idaho State has three representatives in the class, including Olympic pole vaulter Stacy Dragila, track and field administrator and coach Milton “Dubby” Holt, and defensive end Jared Allen, who played for the Bengals in 2000 to 2003 before playing 187 games in the NFL. .
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard is the only male basketball player in the class. With Weber State during the 2011–12 college season, he finished second in the nation with 24.5 points per game. As a pro, Lillard is a six-time NBA All-Star.
The banquet was part of Big Sky’s Football Kickoff weekend.
On Monday, the conference will release its preseason honors and polls for the upcoming fall season.