Sunday, February 27, 2005

A humble genesis

I grew up in Akron, Ohio, and like many children from that area, football was a big part of our life—whether we played the game or supported the local teams. For as long as I can remember there hasn’t been one autumn in my lifetime that was lacking of something to do with football. And probably attributed to my football-minded upbringing, since 1997 I have travelled the remote two-lane highways of Wyoming and Montana, stopping in the small, by-passed towns to take in and document the high school football games served up in these communities on any given autumn weekend.

There is always plenty of time to ponder the mysteries of life—and then some—on my way to any given contest; attending some of these games demands as much as seven hours of driving in one direction. One early Saturday morning I was laughing at myself when I considered how far some people drive for a college or pro contest and there I was putting in over 300 miles to witness one particular high school match-up.

It’s like I’m holding one of the best kept secrets in these small town football games. Considering the millions of tourists who converge upon Wyoming and Montana every year seeking out the splendor of their national parks and surrounding areas, I wonder how many of those same people ever make it to a small town football game in one of these two states? Such is the Grand Canyon and its two classifications of visitors. For a half hour or less (as many studies have claimed), some people stand on the rim and gaze into this great work of erosional art and contemplate what it must be like down there. However, a much smaller percentage find the additional time to explore its depths and thus become intimate with its layers of rock and respectful of its inherent remoteness and dangers. It’s not difficult to calculate who walks away from the Grand Canyon with a richer experience or greater appreciation.

And in a less glorious analogy, so it is in the case of those who visit Montana or Wyoming. Like the Grand Canyon, you can get a general feel for what these two states have to offer if you visit their scenic wonders and gaze over them from a distance. However, taking the extra time to travel to towns like Dubois, Sunburst or Savage for a football game will surely yield a more euphoric experience— where you can sit or stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the locals at a six-man or eight-man game played against the spectacular backdrops provided by the Northern Rockies and the adjacent wide open spaces. And if someone asks you where you are from and why you came (because they’ll spot you easily) all you have to do is tell them you just love football and you heard this was one of the best places to see a game. Such a reply will be good enough.

There’s more to Wyoming and Montana than standing in a blue ribbon trout stream with a fly rod or hiking through a tranquil area of the Bob Marshall wilderness. And on an autumn Saturday afternoon (Friday night too in some towns), you’ll find me in Denton, Belt, Meeteetse or Custer where small town high school football folds into the landscape like sugar in your coffee. Perhaps the game isn’t as perfect as the NFL, but the scenario is just as perfect as standing in one of those blue ribbon streams.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm.

CoachC said...

Mr. Tyree,
I am sitting in my office on a beautiful fall day, looking at your web-site and soaking in every picture and word you have to say about small town football. I had the amazing opportunity to coach at one of these small towns in Montana. You even have a couple of pictures of one of my proudest days as a coach.
You talk about the people in these small towns and the culture that lives and breathes for the Saturday afternoon games. It truly is a culture of its own. One I miss terribly on days like today.
I envy you, being able to travel to so many of the small towns that make up Montana and Wyoming, and getting to know their history and people. It is a beautiful thing.

I thank you for the work that you do, wish you well on your book, and hope that you continue to provide a great look at small town football.

Morgan said...

Thanks Coach C! Encouragement on this project is spotty, but when it comes along as in your comment, it really tops up my tank.

bshaw73 said...

Hey Morgan this is Bailey Shaw the ex Custer Cougar #99. when you visited us a few years ago you took a really cool picture of us on the "hill". i was wondering if i could have you e-mail me that picture. i would greatly appreciate it. Bailey Shaw bshaw@jc.edu

Joshua Slater said...

My name is Josh Slater, a resident of Lima, Montana. Though I now reside in New York and work for the United States Navy as a Nuclear Reactor Operator, thanks to you, I am able to go back and remember the good times we had in high school football. (If you look at the Lima vs. Belfry photo, I'm #88 to the left of the kneel.) Those were some of my most proud days, even the days we lost. thank you for helping me remember that.