LODGE GRASS — For Joshua Stewart, the motivation for leaving the bench as an assistant coach at Billings Skyview to become head coach of the boys basketball program at Lodge Grass was simple.
“It’s home,” Stewart said.
The hiring of Stewart, 38, was approved last week by the Lodge Grass School Board. He had been an assistant under Kevin Morales at Skyview for three seasons, though he said he was “hanging around” for a year or two before that.
Lodge Grass finished 14-8 this past season under Pretty On Top, bowing out of postseason play in the Southern B Divisional after finishing second at the district meet.
“He pretty much stood out on our scoring system,” Lodge Grass athletic director Dee Pretty On Top said Wednesday. “There’s no better coach to be under than Morales. He (Stewart) is pretty familiar with basketball and Kevin was supportive of him pursuing this.”
Stewart attended elementary school and junior high in Lodge Grass before transferring to Tongue River High School in Dayton, Wyoming. After high school, he played basketball at Valor Christian College in Columbus, Ohio, before the lure of home and the challenges facing the Crow Reservation lured him back to Montana.
“I came home to work with the community because the suicide rates are so sky-high,” Stewart said. “It’s become a passion for me. I just want to do my part and instill some hope, and basketball’s a great tool. It’s almost the center of the culture here, a kind of pillar."
Stewart said he wants to continue in the tradition of legendary former Lodge Grass coach Gordon Real Bird, whose run-and-gun style led the Indians to five Class B state titles in the late 1980s with an assist from the great Elvis Old Bull. Real Bird was inducted into the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009 after a career that also included stints at Lame Deer and Little Bighorn College.
“I always wanted to play for the Gordon Real Bird dynasty and system,” Stewart said. “I wanted to play the game right.”
Stewart said he views basketball as the cornerstone to a greater good. He said he wants to be part of what he described as an inspiring “revival of parenting” in the Lodge Grass community.
“For me, it’s just giving them a few tools they might not have,” he said of his players. “There’s a lot of single-parent homes, and sometimes grandmothers and mothers can’t do it all … and there are some good fathers out there inspiring me.
“For so long, it’s been tough. My passion is to raise leaders in the community on and off the court. I guess that’s dreaming big, but it’s not that I’m coming in to do something brand new. This has been in the works for a decade now, maybe longer. There’s a great vibe here right now. Lots of a great things are going on in the community. It’s a great time to be here.”
The announcement of Stewart for the boys position follows the hiring of Cameron McCormick as girls coach in June. McCormick coached at Northern Cheyenne this past season and Rocky Boy the previous year.