Bill Sandaker celebrates more than half a century of Rustler devotion

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Marissa Mc

Marissa McMickle, Staff Writer

Visiting athletes and fans — and students who call C. M. Russell High School home — simply need to take a stroll through the fieldhouse to appreciate Rustler athletic history.

And it’s all thanks to one man.

Bill Sandaker has been documenting CMR sports history and glory for more than half a century, and that history is celebrated one colorful hook at a time.

“I just wanted to make some sort of a banner,” said Sandaker, adding that his wife, a seamstress, said she was busy and he would have to figure it out on his own.

“If I could find something that I could be in the room with her and spend time with her, I thought let me just try this,” he said. “So she’d be sewing and I’d be hooking rugs.”

Sandaker is a familiar face at the westside high school. He is one of the Rustlers’ greatest fans, attending sporting events on a regular basis for decades. Despite his devotion to the green and gold, Sandaker is actually a Bison. He graduated from Great Falls High School in 1956, but his two sons – who ran cross country – graduated from CMR.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag. I live on the CMR side, and I got involved in scorekeeping,” Sandaker said. “I did the stats for [football coach] Jack Johnson, and I traveled with the wrestling team. I just got involved in CMR athletics.”

The very first rug Sandaker made for CMR was for the wrestling team in 1971. The most recent rug was hung in the fieldhouse in 2018 for the boys basketball team.

Making a hook rug isn’t the easiest or quickest of tasks, he said. It takes about 40 hours to make one championship rug. 

“I don’t work straight. If I put my mind to it, I could do it in a week for five eight-hour days,” he said.

In addition to the library and band rugs, there are 84 state championship rugs on display. With those championship rugs hanging in the fieldhouse, simple math reveals that Sandaker has spent almost 3,400 hours devoted to celebrating Rustler athletes.

On display, by sport, are two for girls tennis, three for boys tennis, 13 for football, nine for softball, three for girls basketball, eight for boys basketball, three for girls gymnastics, three for boys gymnastics, one for girls soccer, two for volleyball, three for girls track, five for girls cross country, four for boys cross country, seven for girls swimming, four for boys swimming, five for wrestling, four for boys golf and two for girls golf.

“In the beginning, all the trophies were put into the trophy case,” he said. “So I guess I thought it would be neat to have something in the gym.”

Today when Sandaker walks into the fieldhouse, he said he is happy to see the rugs he has created over the years.

“I don’t feel satisfaction for me. I’m happy that past athletes at CMR can come in and see their rug hanging on the wall. I’m thankful that they’re on display.”