Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Almost Augusta

Practice Field
Originally uploaded by mdt1960.
We first heard about it from the woman at the coffee shop in Townsend, Montana. After gathering up our bedding from camping in our car, we stopped at the combination copy and coffee shop for a hot cup of joe. She inquired about the plans we had for our Saturday and upon hearing we were off to see a six-man football game in Augusta, she recounted the grim story from Augusta she had read in yesterday's paper. From her recollection, a coach up there killed himself after a heated argument with his wife that included a stand-off with the local law enforcement authorities. She didn't know for sure if he was the head football coach, but she was confident he was a football coach.

Following our visit, I purchased a copy of the Great Falls Tribune to see if there was anything more about the tragedy especially if it had any bearing on the scheduled game that day. I wasn't about to drive any farther for a football game that was canceled. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind. How could something this tragic happen in one of the communities where six-man football dwelled? The innocence of small town high school football in Augusta would undoubtedly be shattered by such a tragedy. Then I considered if I still wanted to travel to the strickened community wielding my camera and looking like a member of the paparazzi. Inevitably I would be written off as a vulture who simply came to record the disheartened faces and shattered lives of a community attending their football game where the departed coach was to direct his team.

As it turned out, there were follow up stories in the day's newspaper. Yes, it was the head coach. He and his wife did have a heated, late night argument that resulted in violence. At sometime around two in the morning on Thursday, she went to a neighbor's home to call the police. After several attempts to make contact with the coach, the police finally entered the home around 11:00 a.m. only to discover his body with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Despite the Augusta schools being closed on Thursday because of the suicide, the decision had been made to go ahead with the upcoming game against Rocky Boy.

Under these new and unusual circumstances, I pondered whether a visit to Augusta was appropriate. On one hand, I'd been told it was one of the more scenic areas of Montana and if that was the case I was eager to photograph a game there. Yet, a part of me thought it might be best to leave this community to their grief in the context of their last home football game—outsiders like myself probably wouldn't be appreciated.

Nevertheless, we headed for Augusta.

Shortly after our arrival, I decided against photographing the game. In addition to the unusual circumstances resulting from the suicide, I found the football field surrounded by the clutter of residential and commercial buildings—preventing me from capturing any clean shots that might include the scenic landscape beyond the town's perimeter. However, I noticed the practice field behind the school and walked on over to find it in the setting that I had hoped for regarding the game field.

The local community started to trickle in for the day's game as we drove away. I felt the stars were pulling me away from Augusta—at least this time around. Luckily I recalled an alternative to salvage the day—a late-starting game in Alberton at 3:00. So, we made a beeline for Missoula and beyond—arriving 20 minutes before the start of the Class C eight-man playoff game between Alberton and Sheridan.

Postscript: Augusta 95, Rocky Boy 0

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