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Everybody 'FUPS' at state’s longest-running hoops tourney

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CHARLO — One of the most popular and oldest basketball tournaments in the state, FUPS, celebrated 44 years of basketball last weekend with competition, reunion, and a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor. 

“This is the longest-running tournament in the state,” said event organizer Crystal Kain. “There are a lot of people who played in the original, and now their kids all come back every year and play or the kids of their friends ... I look forward to it every year.”

Kain, 27, has played in the tournament since she was 17. “It’s funny how it works,” she said. “I play in a lot of tournaments around the state in spring, but as soon as somebody has a buddy who plays in FUPS, they’ll call me and say, ‘Hey, how do I get into that tournament?’ It has a pretty good reputation as far as people wanting to get into it and having a good time once they do.”

Rick Knudsen is one of the founding members of the Florida Underwater Protoplasm Society — FUPS, for laymen — and described the event’s humble beginnings as only a Montanan could. 

“Millions of years ago, in a place now known as frost-proof Florida, tiny blobs of protoplasm evolved. As they evolved, they grew appendages that later became bats and balls used to play a rudimentary form of baseball and softball. Of those humble beginnings, there are only two teams still in existence — the Cincinnati Red Lakes and the Missoula FUPS.

“And when the great scorekeeper in the sky calls on your name, he asks not whether you won or lost the game, or even if you played the game, but if you were a FUP.”

The FUPS slogan was adapted from famous turn-of-the-century sportswriter Grandland Rice’s poem, “Alumnus Football.” The poem’s last line reads, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes - not that you won or lost - but how you played the game.”

“He was saying that winning the game was not as important as just playing,” Knudsen said of Rice’s poem. 

In addition, Knudsen said FUPS is an anagram for “fouling up.”

“Everybody FUPS,” Knudsen said. “But, if you’re willing to admit that you foul up, you’re an honorary FUP.”

Much like the protoplasmic goo that spawned the original tournament players and their bat-and-ball appendages, the event has humble beginnings. 

Knudsen said it all started in the spring of 1970 when former high school basketball players from all around Western Montana — Mission, Polson, Arlee, Ronan, Hot Springs, Plains and Frenchtown — wanted to continue playing ball but had no organizational structure to do so. 

And so, like the amoebas of yesteryear, FUPS arose from the chaos. 

“‘Town Ball’ means you’re out of high school but not a college player,” Knudsen said. “We had teams, but we didn’t have uniforms, so we decided to have a tournament, invite some teams and then charge admission so we could raise $100 and buy 10 jerseys.”

Admission to the original tournament cost 50 cents per person, and there were no referees. From there, the tournament exploded. 

These days, instead of charging admission, every team pays $200 to enter (typically 10 people per team) but Knudsen and Kain said it isn’t about the money — it’s about having fun. 

“People couldn’t believe that we’d have an event that took so many hours to organize and not make a profit. People mock us and make fun of us, but we didn’t think you had to make money on everything. Actually, we usually lost money,” Knutsen said with a laugh. “But, now that Crystal is running the show, she was able to give three $500 scholarships (to graduating Charlo High School seniors). This year, they’ve got a kind of volunteer deal going with some refs, so she might actually be able to give the kids more scholarship money. 

“The town benefits because people have a good time; the bars benefit because people drink beer; and the school benefits because the clubs make money; and some kids benefit with the scholarships. There’s a lot of volunteerism going on.”

Bo Herak, a tournament participant and volunteer, said his uncle Marty played in the very first FUPS tournament.

“A Herak has played in every single one of these,” Herak said. “I’ve been here all 25 years of my life. It’s different because there’s a new generation of FUPS coming in, which is awesome for the whole valley. Crystal is doing a great job. Both of our families have been through it all, and she’s just grabbed the torch and is running with it.”

All proceeds from the tournament go toward scholarships for graduating Charlo seniors. Last year, three students were given $500 each. However, in keeping with the FUPS tradition, it’s still not about the money.

“It has a camaraderie that it brings. That’s kind of what keeps it going,” Kain said. “Everybody comes together once a year from all different places to have a reunion. 

“I look forward to it every year.”


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