‘Grizzly Bill’ Schwanke Hangs Up The Microphone For Good [YouTube]
How does one become a 'legend'? Hard work...dedication..talent...and time. And all point to one man who has been part of the heart and soul of Grizzly and Missoula athletics for over 50 years, 'Grizzly Bill' Schwanke.
Bill Schwanke finally hung up his headphones following his last broadcast at the State AA Basketball tournament in Butte. A decision which, Schwanke says, hasn't quite registered for the veteran sports broadcaster and journalist.
"Here it is a couple of days later since I did the last game on Saturday at the state tournament, and I'm not regretting it right now, but maybe in the fall when some games come up, I might think about it a little bit more," Schwanke said. "I just think it was time."
Schwanke, now 69, said it was the physical part of the play-by-play that led to his decision to step down, the lugging around of bulky broadcast equipment, the setting up, the tearing down and the travel across the state.
Looking back, Schwanke said he has so many memories to cherish, and a list of friends and colleagues he will never forget. And...the games... oh, the games.
"I distinctly remember 1975 when Jud Heathcote was coaching Grizzly basketball and they played UCLA in the NCAA tournament," he said. "At that time, Eric Hays was playing for the Grizzlies and along with Michael Ray Richardson, Larry Smedley, and those guys, and they almost beat UCLA in the West Regional, they only lost by three points, and then UCLA went on to win the national championship under John Wooden."
Naturally, a guy with the moniker 'Grizzly Bill' would enjoy beating those guys to the east.
"Any win over the Bobcats is memorable," he laughed. "Beating them badly was even more memorable. We went to Manhattan, Kansas when Jim Brandenburg was head coach and they had won over 95 straight non-conference home games, when Craig Henkel tipped in a shot at the buzzer to win that game."
Schwanke, a six time winner of sports broadcaster of the year, listed the head basketball coaches he has worked with, and it reads like a who's who of college Hall-of-Famers.
"I got to work with Jud (Heathcote), Jim Brandenburg, Mike Montgomery, Blaine Taylor, just so many great people," Schwanke said. "Looking back over time, I realized that I had done some play-by-play during the last six decades."
Anyone who ever worked with Schwanke could testify that no one ever went into a football or basketball game better prepared. This reporter witnessed that preparation every week, as Schwanke spent hours poring over stats, player bios and other important information to relay to the listeners as the "Voice of the Griz" for 21 years.
"That's just the way I always thought it was supposed to be," he said. "But I loved it. My passion for the Grizzlies comes from the fact that I was born and raised in a Grizzly family. To be able to do play-by-play for that many years for the team you love and watch all those kids and coaches, and watch the fans, and for me the whole experience has been surreal. I don't know how else to describe it."
We Griz fans however, know how to describe Bill Schwanke... and that would be 'Grizzly Bill'. There will never be another.