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Stuart Long poses in his Carroll College football uniform, circa 1983.
Stuart Long poses in his Carroll College football uniform, circa 1983.
HELENA — The movie “Father Stu” starring Mark Wahlberg has revitalized a strong local interest in – and introduced a whole new Helena-area generation to – the fascinating life of the late Rev. Stuart Long (1963-2014).
Growing up in Helena and a couple decades prior to converting to Catholicism, Long had been a standout three-sport athlete. He played high school football and wrestled, followed by a collegiate stint on the gridiron, before several successful years of amateur boxing.
And it’s that part of his life, in the sporting arena, that we spotlight in this segment of Replays.
Stuart Long was born to Bill and Kathleen (Kindrick) Long in Seattle, in 1963. His maternal grandfather, Ace Kindrick, was a World War II veteran and a longtime advocate of Helena Legion baseball.
At Capital High, Long played JV football his junior year, and then moved up to starting varsity offensive tackle his final season. During the postseason banquet, he was named the team’s “Best Offensive Lineman.”
The rest of the Bru-crew’s O-line was composed of the combination of Brett Holling, Curt Sampson, Russ Rowsey, Jim Nickman, Eric Rasmussen, Mike Erb, Bob Gustin, Jim McDaniel, Ty Shevalier and tight end Brian DeVore, throughout the year.
Long also wrestled all four years at CHS, mostly at 185 pounds, but sometimes having to fill the heavyweight slot. Among his partners in the workout room were Dave Hand, Darrell Langford, Rick Criner, Lance Zuelke, Neil Noem, Jack Burt, Ty Chevalier, Jim Nickman and Lonnie Burt.
In 1978, he placed third at the Capital City Freshman Jamboree. As a junior in 1979-80, Long placed runner-up at the early season Whitehall JV Tourney, before cracking the varsity lineup later in the season.
His senior year, Long tied for fifth place at the Dillon Invitational. He then placed third at the Butte Christmas Tourney, beating Don Dire (Anaconda) in the consolation finals. In the semifinals, Long was shaded by eventual tournament champion Larry Priestley of Helena, 7-6. Long posted a 10-11 record on the year.
Long was a natural 198-200 pounder. But since the 215/205 weight classes were 20 years away, he needed to cut about 12-13 pounds every week to wrestle varsity at 187, since 230-pound teammate Lonnie Burt had a stranglehold on the heavyweight slot.
“Stu was a senior, I was a sophomore … and I looked up to him for a variety of reasons,” former CHS mat teammate Brad Brazier said. “I remember we were finishing a particularly long practice and, instead of heading to the locker room, he threw on some plastic bags and sweats and took off running stair laps around the Capital gymnasium.
“About a half hour later, after I had showered and changed, he was still going and I asked him how long he planned on running. He said ‘’til I can’t … then I’ll walk.’”
Brazier related that Long was in the middle of a growth spurt, and it was a tough undertaking just to make weight, let alone have anything left in the tank to do something as physically difficult as wrestling.
“He made Lonnie better” through their workouts together, Brazier noted.
Burt made history at the 1981 state meet in Helena when he upset defending champion Gary Albright (Billings West) for the title. The 270-pound Albright was riding a 52-match win streak heading into the finals, but Burt came from behind in the chipper, pulling a reversal in the final 38 seconds for a 6-5 victory.
“Stu was a close friend who helped those around him accomplish more,” Burt, who was an all-conference lineman on the 1984 NCAA national football champion Montana State Bobcats, texted from his home in Oregon. “He was a hard worker on and off the wrestling mat and the football field. I miss him greatly and hope that Heaven is treating him well.”
At Carroll, after transferring from Western Montana College and bulking up to 225 pounds, Long started on the defensive line for two seasons for the Saints, in 1982-83. Among the other local talent of Hilltop starting defenders were former Bruins Monte Thelen, Tim Kelly, Steve Thennis, Chance Ferlicka, Tim Kelly and Dan Frankino; and past Helena High Bengal Tony Strainer.
As a junior, Long joined the Carroll boxing team, which was coached by Scott O’Leary. On March 5, 1983, at the Western Montana College Smoker in Dillon, Long appeared in the main event against Bulldog linebacker Guy Melby at 220 pounds.
“The Melby-Long match was voted by judges as the best fight of the night,” the Montana Standard reported after the pair of pugilists battled to a draw.
At the Carroll Smoker, Long pounded out a decision over 245-pound Bob Pearce of Western in the semi-main bout. Pearce, a transfer from Wyoming’s Northwest College, was fresh off an All-American performance for the ‘Dawgs at heavyweight at the 1983 NAIA Wrestling Tournament. He later served as CHS’ mat coach, in the early 2000s.
Western’s Rick Nordahl, a two-time state runner-up grappler at Capital a few years earlier, won his bout over Tech’s Steve Wulf at 160. Nordahl went on to coach football and wrestling at Dillon High, where his Beavers garnered State A football titles in 2014 and 2016.
At the 25th annual Carroll College Smoker, the 1984 Hilltop pugilists came under the direction of head coach Walt Chancy, and assistants Palmer Hoovestal and Tom Konen. All three were former Smoker combatants, highlighted by Chancy’s Hunthausen Award performance in 1971.
“Stuart Long and Montana Tech’s Mark Phillips went at it toe-to-toe for much of the time,” the Helena Independent Record reported. “Long won the heavyweight tilt via decision.” Most Inspirational went to Carroll senior Dennis Twitchell at 160.
In a full-contact karate exhibition, Hoovestal defeated Mario Rangell when the referee stopped the contest in the third round.
“I was a year ahead of Stu in high school, he was a defensive lineman while I was an offensive lineman,” Hoovestal recalled. “I didn’t get to know him very well until we boxed together at Carroll. Stu was a big guy, so he wasn’t very fast, but he could definitely hit hard. What he lacked in speed he made up for with power.
“He made it to the workouts and trained hard, but he was more like a Clydesdale than a quarterhorse or a thoroughbred.”
But more importantly, Hoovestal noted, was the character that Long exhibited both in and out of the gym.
“It takes a substantial amount of courage to step in the ring and face an adversary whose goal is to literally punch you in the head and face until you fall, bloody and unconscious, to the canvas,” he continued. “Unlike football where you can rely on your 10 other teammates, in boxing there is only you, your fists, and your chin. As a pugilist Stu could both give and take and was not afraid to do so.”
In November 1984, Long joined the Helena Eagles Boxing Club, taking the first step in his pursuit of turning pro. In his amateur debut at the Eagles 4040, in the super heavyweight division versus Al Boyd (Bozeman), he won the bout by referee stops contest (RSC).
Win No. 2 came over Ken Fink (Bozeman), in a “third round retirement.” At the 1985 State Novice Championships in Billings, Long captured the heavyweight title, in a first-round RSC over Boyd.
After a decision over Greg Smith (Missoula) at a fight card in the Garden City, Helena coach Nels Wilkins told the IR he “was pleased with the win by his super heavyweight, because Long was in only his seventh fight, and Smith is a veteran of 25 fights.”
In February, Long (8-1) suffered his first career loss, a three-round decision to Brian Christman (Medicine Hat), who boasted a record of 20-1.
At the Great Northwest Showdown in Kalispell in the semis, Long scored a second-round RSC versus Dave Round Eye (Browning). But in the title bout, he lost to Brian Lansing (Elk Valley, British Columbia) by a first-round technical knockout.
“(Lansing) was tall and lanky,” Wilkins stated in a recent email. “A short time into the first round, Stu drops the Canadian hard. I thought that it was over and so did he. So much that Stu was standing over his opponent yelling at him.
“Whenever I think about that happening, it reminds me of the iconic photo of Cassius Clay standing over Sonny Liston yelling at him. Anyway, the guy gets up and about 30 seconds later, Stu is flat on the canvas, knocked out cold.”
Long was actually scheduled to represent Montana at the Regional Gold Gloves in Salt Lake City the following weekend, but was put on a mandatory 30-day restriction from boxing for safety purposes.
The next season, he sustained back-to-back setbacks, at the fists of Ron Trombly (Missoula) and Rich Lefebvre (Deer Lodge).
At the 1986 Gold Gloves Tourney in Great Falls, Long finished as state runner-up to David Heine (Fairview).
“Long was knocked down in the second round,” coach Kevin McCarl told the IR, “but he came back to nearly stop Heine in the third.”
McCarl recalled recently that his super heavyweight “was a tough kid, for sure, but guys like Trombley and LeFebvre (had an advantage since they) grew up boxing and could move.”
After reconstructive jaw surgery, Long hung up the gloves, and headed for Hollywood to seek his fame and fortune. To make a long (and incredible) story short, he wound up in the priesthood. After contracting the rare disease inclusion body myositis, he spent his final years at Big Sky Care Center, and passed at the age of 50.
“Stu’s body seemed to betray him throughout his life at the times when it could have been a ticket to his success,” said Brazier, who was among those who helped Long in last years. “But, if his body hadn’t betrayed him, we would never have found out how powerful his mind and spirit were.”
Curt Synness can be reached at 406-594-2878, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s also on twitter @curtsynness_IR
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