Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hysham's Magic

Town Pirates
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
If I were a betting man, I would have wagered $100 on Augusta defeating Hysham in the six-man title game. Good thing I don't bet. I'm still trying to determine how Hysham won it? I was there, but I'm having a hard time putting my finger on how the Pirates did it so convincingly.

Good coaching? Sure, but Augusta's Coach Barrett is no slouch.

Speed? I'd say so, but it wasn't obvious, was it?

Good discipline and execution? Yes. At least I was conscience of that a couple times—once while running back Matt Icopini waited patiently for a trap to develop on the sparsely populated, six-man line of scrimmage. It payed off as he raced 54 yards for the touchdown.

Tough? Oh yes. They have to be, but who isn't when they make it to the title game?

Pirate magic? Sure, it makes as much sense as anything.

And here's the kicker... They won the Montana Class C six-man title with only one senior on their 13-man roster and never lost a game all year.

At five-foot, seven-inches (at best), I'm a believer in that old expression "dynamite comes in small packages." But, when Hysham started walking down Main Street on their way to the gridiron, I was thinking to myself, "Is that it? Are there some other players coming out later... like, the varsity?"

In the game program, Hysham's #20, Tait Hollowell was listed at 185 pounds—soaking wet maybe. Programs don't lie, do they?

I'd seen Augusta at North Star several weeks earlier and I was impressed by their size and athleticism. However, they had lost to Highwood during the regular season, but Highwood lost to Hysham twice—once at home and another time at Hysham in the playoffs. So, when the Pirates appeared, I assumed that the Elks must have had a really bad day with Highwood or some key players didn't make the game that day.

As Augusta waited to receive the opening kick-off, I watched the Pirates' small-framed, kick-off team run out on the field as I prepared myself for the Augusta return man to take it back all the way. It didn't happen and what was even more surprising, it never happened.

The entire game was a reminder of last year's eight-man title game at Centerville. When the Miners came out on the field and I saw their great numbers, but relatively small size, I calculated Wibaux was going to win by four touchdowns... easy. I was wrong then, and wrong again this time at Hysham.

But, you know, I don't mind being wrong. It's good for the soul as long as one is willing to admit it.

Not only was the Hysham-Augusta match-up a great small town high school football game, it was also a great day for all the wonderful attributes of such settings—most of them people related.

First there was A'lona, one of the Hysham moms who assisted decorating the highway approaching the town. She has a daughter attending the high school, but you would have thought she had a son starting at quarterback too. I met up with her again at halftime when I heard the championship game shirt sales were going fast. I walked over to the table where she was working with only four bucks in my pocket. Strapped for cash and no ATM in sight, I promised her a CD of images from the game and my remaining dollar bills in exchange for a shirt. The CD is in the mail A'lona!

Than there was Paul and Frank, the two elder corn farmers at the Chuckwagon Café (open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.) that have probably never heard of the word "retirement." They weren't attending the game because they had a test plot just outside of town to work, but had plenty of time to chat with us over coffee and breakfast. When they walked in and found no available tables, they took up my offer to join Slim and I at our table for four.

During the game I became acutely aware regarding how many times the opposing team players helped their opponent up after a tackle. I know it's a common thing, but it seemed uncommonly prolific in the contest—text book good sportsmanship. Funny, I don't think I have an image anywhere in my work that includes this friendly scenario. And just like that, I have a new assignment for next season already.

The magic of small town high school football appeared to follow us to the big city of Billings. We decided to get a cup of coffee at the City Brew coffee house before driving the last darkened, 90 minutes of our trip home that is illuminated only by headlights with the exception of a few streetlights when driving through Fromberg and Bridger. Tired from our big day in Hysham, an elderly man named Robert walked over to our table and initiated a conversation about hair styles for older men that led to other topics. As it turned out, Robert was a retired history professor who earned a doctorate from Columbia University a long time ago and flew as a B-24 Liberator bombardier during the late stages of World War II. As colourful as his stories were given his age of 82 years, he was excited to hear of our day at Hysham and told us how he would love to see a six-man football game someday. We exchanged contact information and promised to include him in a six-man game next season.

It was a day of magic.


joerob said...

Great report Morgan. I had a great time in Sheridan too, but football-wise, it was a bit of a dud.

For me, the most critical juncture of the game occured about two hours before kickoff, when, easing in to a counter seat at the cafe in Twin, I spotted the sports page from the Butte paper. Eagerly grabbing same, I read a detailed pre-game report by a sports writer from the paper. In it, he averred that Joe Ingram, quarterback and defensive back and Mr. "Go-to" guy for the Panthers, was in the hospital recovering from a broken rib and punctured lungs suffered in the Stanford game the week previous. (I had heard a rumor that Ingram may not play, but had pretty much discounted it up to that point).

No Joe for Sheridan. And, to make matters worse, the backup QB is a sophomore wide receiver with a dis-located elbow on his non-throwing arm.

Short of a miracle, this state championship was not going to be the battle of titans that it might have been.

At halftime, Trojans up 34-8, I headed for the bar at the Sheridan Hotel to watch the second half of the Griz-Cat game, just in time to see my Grizzlies catch fire and play their best half of football all season.

Stuart Griffin said...


The pictures are always great, I enjoy looking at the moments you capture. But there is one reason alone that I am a faithful reader of your blog: You manage to capture all those subtle events of a weekend that make small town football what it is in your writing. The mom with the decorations and t-shirts... the old farmers in the cafe... It is a senario every small town american knows well... and your writing makes me feel as if I am reliving it as I read. Thank you.

JoeRob... I had a similar experience when I got online and red the pregame articles... What a shame. I feel bad for any good football player that has to experience the helplessness of an untimely injury.

Morgan said...

Thanks Stuart. Kind words indeed.

Joerob: Yup, too bad about the Ingram kid. I knew something was up when I saw the score posted.

Taking nothing away from Drummond or Sheridan... let's have some fun here. Given that both had close calls in the playoffs, consider how close we were from seeing a Centerville-Twin Bridges final? And had it materialized, what would have been the outcome... assuming they both stayed healthy?

Just for fun, now.

Anonymous said...

I hope you had a good time in Hysham, Morgan. It's great small town....great pictures, you captured the atmosphere as well as the game perfectly. Hope you come back again........

Stuart Griffin said...

In your hypothetical situation I would have chosen Centerville. Since I did not see either play this year, what do I base that on?? Experience. Drummond edged them in a tight game, but Drummond has rather unparrelled play-off and big game experience. Twin made an incredible run last year on the easy side of the bracket, but I feel as if their lack of big game playoff experience helped Sheridan squeak by them.

Morgan said...

I probably would have picked Twin. Maybe they wouldn't have any big game playoff experience, but they would undoubtedly have had some more experience and confidence after defeating Sunburst and Stanford at home. And probably what I would have banked on is they wouldn't have been as exhausted from the extreme competition and emotion that Centerville would have seen ramping up to the final. And of course, the title game would have been at Twin.