Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Gospel According to Epler

Chester's First Six
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
The following excerpt is from Stephen Epler's book titled Six-Man Football: The Streamlined Game. Published by Harper & Brothers Publishers in 1938. When I was reading this to myself the other day, I felt as though I should be standing before a congregation of football disciples...

The Beginnings of Six-man Football

Six-man football can best be explained to the person familiar with the eleven-man game as the usual football played by two teams that play without tackles and guards, and are short the services of one halfback. A six-man team is composed of two ends, a center, quarterback, halfback, and fullback. Six-man football is not a pass and touch game. Tackling and blocking as well as kicking, passing, and running with the ball are integral elements of the game.

A casual observer at a six-man game would notice little difference between the two types of football except the smaller number of players. A more careful observer would soon discern other differences. He would not only observe that there are fewer players, but that the field is smaller. He would notice that all the players are allowed to catch forward passes and that more players handle the ball. He would find it much easier to see what each player is doing and he could easily observe the movement of the ball. He would notice that this is a more open game and that every running play includes at least one lateral or backward pass. He would discover that there are few pile-ups and fewer injuries. The increased amount of scoring and the fast-moving play would hold his attention.

Six-man football is primarily a player's game and only incidentally a spectator's game. Players become enthusiastic about six-man because they are allowed to carry the ball, catch passes, and handle laterals. Every member of the team must be an all-around player skilled in ball handling, pass receiving, and pass throwing as well as in blocking and tackling. The freedom from injuries and the open play increase their zest.

—Stephen Epler, 1938

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Starting with Noxon

Noxon Red Devils
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Noxon, Montana is off the beaten path in every sense of the way. First of all, it is located in the extreme northwest corner of Montana and secondly, you have to drive over a one-lane bridge coming off the main highway to enter the town. With the Bitterroot and Cabinet Mountains on both sides and a healthy and thick stand of pine trees all around, Noxon would likely personify the quintessential image of what many people think Montana should look like—and perhaps Northern Idaho.

Despite its overall Montana-esque setting, Noxon is no Wibaux when it comes to football. That is to say, high school football still has its work cut out for it in Noxon compared to a town like Wibaux, Montana where the football season rates as high as the hunting season. While Noxon just restarted their football program in the late 90s, Wibaux has been competing for state football titles since its six-man days back in the late 30s and early 40s.

Another striking contrast between these two eight-man football schools/towns is that while some of the athletic kids in the high school at Noxon are "saving themselves" for the basketball season and opting out of football, Wibaux's community might not understand such rationale unless those same players could guarantee a state title in basketball.

Nevertheless, football tradition or location aren't everything.

* * *
I travelled to Noxon this past August to observe their first week of two-a-day practices. The idea came to me on the advice of Jody Oberweiser—the wife of Drummond's head football coach Jim Oberweiser. A few years earlier, I had considered a Noxon excursion until I heard they had installed lights. I decided 500-plus miles was too far to travel for a game under the homogenous-rendering flood lights of Friday night. So, I made plans to attend in the summer when two-a-day practices were held during the magical light of mornings and evenings.

I'm not sure what Noxon co-head coach Ted Miller thought when I called him up in June telling him about my idea to visit during their summer practices. Yet, he didn't discourage me, so I moved on with my plans.

One of the perks for travelling to that part of the state during the summer with ample time on my hands was stopping in to check out a few other small town football venues that I had pondered in the past—Superior, St. Regis, Plains, Thompson Falls, Troy, Charlo and Arlee. Along with Noxon, I would give Thompson Falls the nod for a great football setting with the added bonus of fielding a competitive team year after year.

There's a bit of anxiety when one commits to stay in a town/area they've never visited—especially if there isn't any advertising or significant word of mouth to lure you there like... oh let's say, the Bahamas. So, as I drove across the famed one-lane bridge that leads to Noxon, all I could say to myself was, "Well, this is it."

While in Noxon for the week, I stayed about five miles up the main highway (State Route 200) at the Cabinet Gorge RV Park. Diane gave me a great campsite for four nights at $42. Although I slept in my little tent and on the ground every night, it was priceless to know that a hot shower was a short walk away.

I had most of my meals from my cooler that I kept stocked with ice. However, I did break down for one meal and ordered a wonderful burger at Sneakers Bar and Grill in downtown Noxon. Next door at the Noxon Merchantile I found a bag of Australian Kookaburra licorice—what a treat and the last place I would have guessed to carry such a luxurious import. I also found my morning coffee (and a breakfast burrito) from the portable and efficient Road Runners Espresso—a converted potato chip truck that set up every morning at the end of the bridge by the main highway.

* * *
I knew it would be a good week when freshman Tyrell Wilkenson walked out of the locker room boasting one evening practice that he had gained weight over the summer and was now a whopping 136 pounds—soaking wet.

You can't help but get attached to any team if you spend enough time with them. I felt quite indifferent when I started shooting on Tuesday night, but by Friday afternoon I was a Red Devil fan as much as anyone else. Regardless of the 2007 season, I hope they come away from it with a great deal of confidence that will carry them into the 2008 season and beyond.

Leaving town that Saturday, I considered my comparison of Noxon and Wibaux and the hypothetical result of combining Noxon's scenery with the football enthusiasm of Wibaux—they'd probably have one whale of a football team. Some might argue I've just described Drummond and Centerville.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Coach Kudos

Here's a great article about Class C coaches Dan Lucier of Superior and Drummond's Jim Oberweiser. The story was written by Chad Dundas of the Missoulian, based in Missoula, Montana. Click HERE

Exhibit Opening

Anthem Singers
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Come one, come all. The Western Heritage Center in downtown Billings, Montana will be hosting a photography exhibit titled "The Biggest Game in a Small Town" This is a collection of 50 images from small town high school football games in Montana and Wyoming from 1997-2007 by yours truly. The exhibit runs from September 13 through December 1. Museum hours are Tuesdays–Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The museum is located at 2822 Montana Avenue and their web site is