The House that Rob Built — One man’s belief in the power of sports to transform community

The House that Rob Built — One man’s belief in the power of sports to transform community

The purpose of college competitive sports is not only to win and bring recognition to the school, but to give players confidence, team building skills and the joy of athletics. Some university coaches naturally know how to bring the best out of each athlete while nudging them to be committed, competitive and decent human beings. And few coaches stand above the rest becoming role models to their players and offering inspiration. One such unsung hero to many is Robin Selvig of the University of Montana. 


The House that Rob Built eloquently tells his story and the impact one life has on an entire community and specifically on the development of women’s college basketball in the Northwest. Co-directed by Jonathan Cipiti and UM alumna and former Lady Griz Megan Harrington and written by Harrington along with Catherine Fowler Sample and Matthew Donlan, this documentary moves like a fast-paced feature film while providing biographical depth and real-life inspiration. As Producer Father David Guffey of Family Theater Productions says, “This is not explicitly a religious film but it is everything about what it means to be a person of faith: committed to others, a person of character, linked to a community, united to others with diverse backgrounds.”  


Selvig, native of the small town of Outlook, Montana played basketball for the University of Montana, though not a very strong player, actually being told, “You play like a girl.” A prophecy in a way, he believes. His gift was that he listened to the coach and grew from the experience, so much so that if not for a life-changing knee injury he would have played professional. Realizing that he could not play, he decided to coach instead. In 1978, at just 25, Selvig was offered the job to coach UM’s women’s basketball team named the Lady Grizzlies, or better known as the Lady Griz. His recruiting began, calling women from Montana ranches, small towns, and Native American reservations.


Rob Selvig in "The House that Rob Built" © 2020 Family Theater Productions. All rights reserved. 


Many former players give their testimonies to the early days of the Lady Griz and Rob’s influence upon their future lives. But the story within the story that gripped me the most was from Native American trailblazer from Blackfeet Reservation, Malia Kipp. Her story of responding to Selvig’s recruit at a time when very few Native women went to college while overcoming obstacles is most inspiring. Kipp became the first Native American basketball player at the University of Montana, a registered nurse and medical instructor, offering hope and inspiration to many young women on reservations and current Native Lady Griz competitors. 


Just prior to Selvig’s takeover of the Lady Griz, Title IX took effect offering equal playing time, facilities and funding for women athletes. Though virtually no one came to see them play, Selvig coached the women just as he would men—he was tough but compassionate—winning over the respect of all his players and eventually having women from all over the Northwest seek out the University of Montana’s basketball club. 


Women’s sports league around the country lacked sponsorships because their revenue was practically non-existent. After a few short years, Selvig raised the bar of women’s basketball and the Lady Griz games were sold out raising awareness among business owners and becoming one of the first income-generating women’s basketball divisions. Within 11 years, Montana moved ahead of the rest of the country with eight championships eventually becoming a Division 1 team. 


"The House that Rob Built" © 2020 Family Theater Productions. All rights reserved. 


To Selvig, every person had a role on the team. Former players said that he had a knack to mold the team into champions teaching them how to make it fun while pushing the level of competitiveness and holding every player accountable to be better. 


When Coach Selvig retired in 2016, 100 former Lady Griz players came from all over the country to honor this man who changed their lives. As Harrington says, “How many coaches would have over 100 women show up for their retirement party? And of all the statistics, the 865 wins, 286 losses, 38 years at one school, number 10 of the winningest coaches, to me that is the most important statistic. They showed up because he did…. That legacy another university would be jealous of.” Moved by their presence and adulations, Rob replies, “Things are special because you get to share them.” He shared that the players deserve the credit because in the midst of the intensity and togetherness, it was a family and a big part of his life. 


"The House that Rob Built" © 2020 Family Theater Productions. All rights reserved. 


Most of these former players grew into confident, strong and very successful women because of their experience at UM. They shared that the difference was that someone believed in them and that elicited loyalty, commitment and sisterhood as a team. As Father Guffey expresses, “I was so touched by the ways that Rob was tough and demanding, but also the ways he cared for people personally. It wasn’t just about wins and losses, he cared for people. What a great role model Rob is for any parent, any coach, any teacher, anybody who has the privilege to mentor young people.” Harrington shares why she made this film, “A little inspiration right now goes a long way.”


And nothing is more inspiring than human beings rising above all odds to defy expectations and probabilities. A film like this, uplifts, transforms and makes you want to stand up and shout. It’s people like Rob Selvig who give others hope because they share what they have—“I’m a pretty happy man,” he says. And that kind of says it all. 


"The House that Rob Built" Interview of the author with Writer/Director Megan Harrington and Producer Father David Guffey



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