Clash of the Champions

Dillon coach Terry Thomas (left) makes defensive adjustments during Saturday’s state A title game. Columbia Falls coach Cary Finberg (right) makes a point during first half action against Dillon. J.P. Plutt photos


The championship basketball history between Dillon Beaver coach Terry Thomas and Columbia Falls Wildcat coach Cary Finberg dates back to 1990.   At that time, Craig Finberg was the head basketball coach at Dillon, Thomas was in the early stages of formulating the plan for his future Beaver football dynasty, and Cary Finberg had wound up his playing days at Western. Thomas and Craig would serve as each others assistants, and when Cary joined his brother and Thomas on the basketball staff, the Beavers were in business.  The trio guided the Beavers to the state A basketball championship, Dillon’s first title of any kind since 1946.

The championship would open Dillon’s “Golden Age” of athletic success.  Since that night in Bozeman when Dillon beat Butte Central, 69-49, Dillon teams in all sports have won 18 state titles.

The process of winning with character, team play and with a sense of passion for the sport had its beginning in that coaching room with Thomas, Finberg, and Finberg.

Fast forward to 2009.  Craig, a Columbia Falls legend who went on to a glorious playing career at Montana State before landing in Dillon, lay on his deathbed.  The two teams and communities dearest to him – Dillon and Columbia Falls - were slated to play for the state A title, guided by Thomas and the younger Finberg.  It was an emotional moment in time in which a healthy, respectful sports rivalry sprung from the love and admiration two towns held for a man who would soon die pancreatic cancer.

That emotional state title game would be the first of four championship games between Dillon and Columbia Falls in the past six years.  The coaches and teams, forever linked.