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.


Anonymous said...

What a great blog. I have the same interest. I grew up in Kemmerer Wyoming. I really enjoyed reading about your trip to Cokeville. While in high school, actually played Cokeville twice and won both games. Cokevilles coach, Todd dayton, is a personal friend of my parents. I have watched his kids. If you look at the history of Cokeville football, you will see every success has his name on it. From player to coach.
Not much 6 or 8 man ball around here (Colorado). But I am starting my quest to watch all the small town football I can. Thanks for the inspiration.

Morgan said...

I suggest you head over to the Eastern Plains of Colorado. Though I've never been (always wanted to), six-man is pretty established in that part of the state. Perhaps you should start with Idalia. From Wikipedia: Idalia is the home of around 100 people. The school is Idalia High School and teaches pre-K through 12th grades. The mascot is the wolf and the school colors are maroon and white. There are two restaurants in town. One restaurant is called the Prairie Vista Cafe, and the other is the Route 36. The Idalia Wolves have won many 1A 6-man football state titles. Some of the students have won the Player of the Year award for 1A schools.

mike said...

I enjoy reading the entries from SMHSF. I thought I was suffering withdrawals after the entry about Hays basketball. I'm glad the football season is here. As a guy who coached eight man football, yes against Hays, Arlee, Charlo (during their good years), Wibaux (during their good years, like they ever have a bad year), Terry (again during...), Denton, Stanford, Park City, Absarokee, Geraldine(when they were 8 man; I also played for the Tigers years ago),you get the picture; I now enjoy watching eight-man games. Oh, and I also coached against Noxon in basketball years ago. I plan to watch some six man games this year also, along with some Montana B, A and AA games. That's my hobby. Anyway, glad to have Small Town High School Football back.

Joy said...

I grew up in Noxon and graduated in 1994. At that time football was still a pipedream and basketball ruled the sports universe of the Noxon Red Devils. I haven't been back since I left in the summer of 1994 but this post brings back so much about the small town I grew up in as well as some surprising changes! Thank you for sharing!