Monday, September 04, 2006
The Road to Jordan... Montana
I suppose it's one thing to label a town "small" because its population is less than… let's say 1,000. However, it's another thing when your town fits this definition but is also a good stretch from any other town that is larger and thus has more to offer when it comes to matters of commerce.
So, I'm sitting here wondering, "Which town is really smaller... Custer, Montana, population under 300 and 45 miles away from Billings (population about 100,000) or Jordan, Montana, population about 500 and 90 miles away from Miles City (population about 8,100)?"
I've had my eye on Jordan for a couple of years now (well, at least the Jordan that's on the map). In an effort to cover the entire state, I felt Jordan was in a section of Montana where no other small town football program existed. Because of this, I was compelled enough to go—site unseen, no matter what setting was offered for this photo documentary project.
Once I decided this mission was a "go," I started to look at other schools along the way that might offer a game on Saturday afternoon since the Jordan program has lights and thus plays on Friday nights. At first I considered Ryegate as they were embarking on a new six-man football season sans co-op with Rapelje and were playing at home. Ryegate would only be a short detour on my way home from Jordan, and besides I was willing to go just to see where they located the new football field. The last time I was in Ryegate, there wasn't anything resembling a football field to my recollection since they had played in Rapelje when the two schools were a co-op.
Earlier in the week I also discovered that Grass Range was hosting their first eight-man football game of the season and I would be driving right by Grass Range on my way to and from Jordan. Further, I had scouted the gridiron at Grass Range last year on my way back from a game at Hays and thought its backdrops—mostly void of clutter—would provide for a quintessential setting of small town football in Montana.
Grass Range is a very small town with less than 200 people. As a result, the school teams up with Winnett and Roy—two very small schools as well to make for one eight-man football team. Winnett is 23 miles east of Grass Range while Roy is 27 miles to the north. The population of Winnett and Roy is 185 and 395 respectively. Some sources report that Roy was actually named "Ray," but due to a typo when setting up the post office it became "Roy."
It was decided—Jordan Friday night and Grass Range Saturday afternoon.
The road to Jordan (...Montana that is) from Grass Range is one of those lonely two-lane roads in America. Once you pass Winnett, there is only one store at Sand Springs in the 76 miles to Jordan. Despite the isolation of such places, it always a bit more exciting to be on a road that I've never travelled with its new sights along the way.
In an effort to refute the old saying of "if you blink, you'll miss it," as you approach Winnett from the east there is a sign that says, "Go ahead and blink, we're still here... Winnett, next two exits." Well, they are hardly exits—more like turn-offs—but Winnett looks like a metropolis in the vast emptiness surrounding it.
According to the map, there are also two other towns along the road—Teigen and Mosby, but neither do I recall seeing anything that resembled a settlement nor any sign telling me I was entering either community.
With nearly 90 minutes to spare before kickoff, my first task upon arriving in Jordan (as always when entering a new town) is to find the gridiron. School crossing signs usually give its location away if I don't spot lofty gridiron floodlights in my approach of a given town.
I was happy to discover the Jordan gridiron in a decent location with a vista of sorts to the northeast. Perhaps not the majestic surroundings of an Alberton, but it beat the pants off of Chinook's 360 degrees of chaos. Shortly after, I was relieved to find at least two different locations to pitch my self-sufficient camp and a supply of gasoline for the return trip to Grass Range. I called Tanya to let her know of my safe arrival and returned to the Jordan gridiron for my objective.
Jordan's first home game pitted them against Savage—about a 140 mile trip away near the North Dakota border. When Savage took the field in the early evening, late summer sunlight, their numbers were more suitable for a six-man squad than eight-man with only two players on the sidelines during the game. Jordan's numbers were greater (19 on the roster) despite their total school enrollment of 57 students in grades 9-12. Fittingly, Jordan scored the first touchdown that was recorded on their brand new scoreboard. Although Jordan was challenged by the Warriors of Savage early in the game, in the end the Mustangs were too much for the visitors. Final score: Jordan 20, Savage 8.
I was most impressed with the bright and even lighting of the Jordan gridiron as football fields in many towns of this size are often poorly lit if they have Friday night games at all. This year's new scoreboard along with the new canopy over the home stands from last year was a strong message that Jordan football will be a staple in the community no matter which class of football they play in the years to come.
I left Jordan at 9:00 a.m. the next day to allow myself plenty of time to photograph along the way to Grass Range. I had camped in the Jordan City Park following the game and found myself surprisingly well rested when I awoke Saturday morning despite the primitive sleeping conditions of tent, foam pad, sleeping bag, and two little blue sleeping pills (my small tribute to Elvis).
It was a picture-perfect day at Grass Range with the exception of a gusty little breeze. The Rangers were hosting the Bridger Scouts, a school that had broken out of their co-op with nearby Fromberg and were taking on the ranks of Class C eight-man football on their own now. I expected to see their numbers down from last year's squad when I saw them teamed up with Fromberg in the first game of the 2005 season against powerful Park City. However, as they rambled onto the field it was clear they weren't hurting in numbers or physical size.
The hosting Grass Range-Roy-Winnett Rangers listed 17 players on their roster—just a few less than Bridger. However, the Scouts appeared to have the edge in size and overall athletic talent. Nevertheless, the Rangers played the Scouts tough in stuffing their running game and sacking the Bridger quarterback on more than one occasion. At the half, Bridger was on top to the tune of 20-8. A few costly turnovers and defensive lapses sealed the Bridger advantage in the end. Despite losing their quarterback to a sprained or broken ankle early in the fourth quarter, Bridger seemed most dominating of Grass Range in those last twelve minutes of the game. Final score: Bridger 48, Grass Range 8.
As I made my way home in the four-hour drive back to Powell, I considered some of the sights I'd spied on the way up—now there would be more time to photograph on the return trip. Nevertheless, the wind and sun at Grass Range had taken its toll. Further, I'd felt blessed with the images I'd been provided thus far and considered myself greedy should I stop to shoot more. So straight home I drove stopping only for a rootbeer freeze in Roundup and a bit more petrol in Laurel.
On other scores around the state: How about those Sunburst Refiners... are they for real?