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HARDIN — Two days after exiting the Hardin High School doors for the final time as a junior last May, Sharmayne Hardy shipped out to a whole different world.

That new world was Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where the Bulldogs’ point guard was up at 4 a.m. for physical training, then breakfast (eggs, so many eggs), followed by classroom work and eventually field training. The long days would end around 9 or 10 p.m., and she and her fellow privates would do it all over again for another day of Basic Combat Training.

At 5-foot-3 and 116 pounds, Hardy not only survived basic training. She thrived.

She received two promotions and was singled out as an honor graduate, a title typically reserved for the top 10 percent or fewer of the class. She was also designated as a platoon guide, the recruit chosen by the drill instructor as a liaison between the DI and the 60-member platoon.

“There were other high schoolers, but there were also adults there who were 20-something, and to be in charge of them was hard,” said Hardy, a couple days before the Bulldogs were scheduled to take on Eastern A foe Billings Central on Saturday in a much anticipated rematch of their double-overtime thriller earlier this season. “Especially being a female (platoon guide). You wouldn’t think they’d like to listen to or take orders from a girl who’s still in high school, so that was tough.”

Tough is exactly a word to describe Hardy. Maybe not so much in the physically imposing sense, but more in the vein of her mental approach and willingness to push herself.

Which is what led her to join the Montana National Guard in December of 2016 in the first place as part of its split option program. (Hardy said three other Hardin students — David Long Sioux, Ezekiel Coyoteruns and Justin Zier — entered the Guard under the split option program). There is no military service in the family background, but for Hardy there has been an ever-present sense of purpose.

“Growing up, I always pictured myself being in a military lifestyle for some reason,” said Hardy, who moved to Hardin from Arizona with her mother and older sister and younger brother when she was a seventh-grader. “I wanted to be in the Air Force and be a pilot. But that changed, and I just decided to go into the National Guard because I feel like once I graduated high school I might have changed my mind.”

There’s no changing her mind, now, not that she wants to. She’s locked in with the Guard for six years total and will go on regular weekend training sessions when her sports schedule allows. Hardy ships out next summer for advanced individual (job specific) training at Fort Lee in Virginia. She’s on track to graduate as a Unit Supply Specialist.

“When she first told me she was going to the National Guard, I was a little bit surprised,” said girls basketball coach Cindy Farmer, who has been a teacher and coach at Hardin for 20 years. “But then, you know, I got to thinking about it and I was like, this is perfect for her. I just knew any obstacle she was faced with, she would overcome it. That’s just the way she is.”

Hardy likes the structure and discipline the Guard provides. The physical training was the easy part, she said. Eating MREs (meals ready-to-eat) sometimes twice a day, and eggs nearly every day for breakfast, was “a bit rough.”

So, too, was early homesickness.

“The first two weeks, I was missing my mom (Yvonne),” she said. “That was the tough part. Calling her, I cried. I’m not going to lie. I cried.”

But Hardy likes to challenge herself. And she wasn’t going to let this challenge go. She grew up in a single-parent family and had to learn early to pull her weight, she said. At basic, and as a platoon guide, she learned how to help others to do the same.

“It was a very stressful environment and I had to learn to cope with it,” she said. “When people complain that high school is a prison, I’m like, ‘it’s not a prison. Trust me.’"

When Hardy first entered the halls of the high school Farmer could see the freshman’s special qualities. That showed on the basketball court, too, where the then-freshman Hardy made four clutch free throws in the final 22 seconds of an Eastern A divisional game to help the Bulldogs hold off Miles City and break a 10-year state-tournament drought.

The Bulldogs missed out on state the next season, but returned with a flourish last year. Hardin lost to Columbia Falls in the state championship game, and, as the No. 4 team in the most recent rankings, intend to make another run this year.

“Being at state is the best feeling ever,” said Hardy, who averages 10.3 points, 5.3 steals and 3.0 assists per game. “When you look at the fans’ faces, especially the elders, you kind of see the reason why you’re playing.

“You’re not just playing for yourself, you’re playing for your community. To see the little girls, too, to give them hope.”

Spoken like a true leader.

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