Most small towns across hometown USA have a sendoff ritual for their high school basketball sports teams when they travel to state tournaments.
They usually involve some kind of pomp and circumstance. Pompom-waving cheerleaders lining a path for the team as it makes its way to the bus while the marching band blares away is typical.
They do it up kind of nice in Ponca, Nebraska, where the Lady Indians enjoy a schoolwide pep rally in the gym before players head to waiting buses decorated by parents of the student athletes.
The Waterford High School Lady Wildcats were treated to a sea of green this March as the entire community turned out with signs and noisemakers to cheer on their girls’ team headed to the 48th annual state tournament in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
In Rawlins, it wouldn’t be the postseason in any sport without a community parade down the town’s main drag.
But nothing is more Americana, more Wild West, than the sendoff given to the Hardin Lady Bulldogs last week as the girls headed off for state competition in Montana. Talk about “the feels.”
A group of boosters gallop on horseback full-speed alongside the team’s bus, flags held high.
A viral video of the sendoff making the rounds landed on our screens at Cowboy State Daily via Spencer Martin, sports director for SWX in Billings, who added, “All towns have great sendoffs for their team to state. That said, Hardin takes the cake. This is awesome.”
A few Google searches and phone calls caught up with MaShaya Alden. She’s the one leading the charge in the video until she’s overtaken by a streaking Sheridan Wagner riding his pony bareback.
MaShaya is the 2023 Crow Fair Rodeo Queen and a former Lady Bulldog. She was a big part of the team that went runner-up at state for three consecutive years in 2017-19. She has a sister on the team now.
Also with MaShaya in the mounted brigade is her dad Patrick. The whole thing was his idea.
“He’s been wanting to do this since I was in high school,” MaShaya said. “He and my mom [Staci] planned this all, along with my brother Terrel and uncle, Wade. He’s the one carrying one of the Bulldogs flags. My dad has the Crow flag. My little sister Zay is the one in the back.”
It’s a family thing, an H-Town thing and a Crow Nation thing. And how could it not be?
This proud tribal nation has long been revered for its horsemanship. The Apsáalooke sit a horse like no other.
Watching this band gallop all out in the snow alongside the Hardin High School team bus for as long as their steeds can keep up is nothing short of inspirational.
It was obviously inspiring to the Lady Bulldogs, who went on to wallop Beaverhead County 70-57 in the opening round of state tournament play. Led by Dierra Takes Enemy, Aiyanna Big Man and Carlei Plainfeather, Hardin then got past Laurel 76-71 in Round 2 before settling for runner-up, again, after losing to Havre, 74-57, in the championship game.
There’s always next year for Montana Hall of Fame Coach Cindy Farmer’s crew. And will the 2024 team get another hooves-thundering sendoff?
“Yes, absolutely,” MaShaya says.