|June 19, 2014
The little known story behind the name of the Ronan Chiefs
A picture of the Ronan High School Basketball District Champions in 1928. Sam Clairmont sits in the back row to the right of Coach F.B. Polley, and Frenchy Roullier sits in center of the middle row. The two basketball players helped the Ronan High School Basketball team gained the name “Chiefs” after their victories at Districts and State Tournaments. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Clairmont)
By Adriana Fehrs
RONAN — The origin story of the Ronan Chiefs and Maidens is not born from racism or hatred but unbeknownst to most, stems from a place of admiration and success.
Tribal members Sam Clairmont and Phillip “Frenchy” Roullier competed in basketball for Ronan High School in the late 1920s. Sam Clairmont’s son Jim Clairmont says, “Sam was one of the tallest players in the State of Montana.” Sam Clairmont played center position for Ronan High School, and towered over most other players at a tremendous six foot-three inches.
Clairmont says that back then, things were a lot different. Schools did not have classification systems. “There was no class AA, A, B, or C teams. All the teams competed against each other, regardless of the size of the school.”
The media referred to the Ronan High School basketball team as the ‘Chiefs’ after their victories in the late 1920s. Most of the team consisted of Native Americans. Though the name was used in a positive way, today, many consider the mascot to be discriminating. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Clairmont)
After every basket, referees put the ball back in play with a tip-off and players did not do ‘jump shots’, but instead perfected their “set shots’ – when a player would not jump when shooting overhand – and their ‘hook shot’ – when a player would throw the ball with a sweeping motion of his arm in an upward arc with a follow through which ends over his head.
Clairmont also mentioned that players would shoot ‘granny style’ when they were shooting a free throw.
Sam and Frenchy proved to be some of the most gifted players; during their senior year at Ronan, the basketball team defeated most other teams.
The Ronan basketball team moved onto the State Basketball Tournament. At State, they lost to Anaconda in the semi-finals; a team they had beaten twice before in the regular season. Ronan ultimately placed third at the State Tournament.
Other teams began calling the Ronan high school basketball team the ‘Chiefs’; Clairmont says, “It was out of admiration, because they were so powerful.” The majority of the basketball team was Native American, and they considered it an honor. Ronan adopted ‘Ronan Chiefs’ as their name, which would later become the ‘Ronan Chiefs and Maidens’.