Monday, December 31, 2007

Wyoming could learn from Montana: Part 1

Rowberry Leaps
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
With the exception of walking over to my nearby Powell Panther football games on a couple of Friday nights, this past football season found me documenting small town high school football exclusively in Montana. It wasn't on purpose, it just turned out that way.

Or maybe it was on purpose.

In 2006, I attended only one Wyoming football game and the years before that, just a couple during any one season. Only in 2001 did I attend games exclusively in Wyoming.

Looking back on this record, I can only surmise that the reason I've attended more Montana high school games than those in Wyoming is because Montana's games are simply better.

There, I said it. I reckon this guarantees me a last-place finish for any popularity contests in the Cowboy State (where I reside). Regardless, I hope no one will take it personally, but rather think of it as only a critique that might be taken into consideration when the powers that be think about improving the game of football in Wyoming's high schools.

And, before you go and totally dismiss my opinion, give me some credit for having attended a fair share of games in both states—not just some ridiculous conclusions based on a few visits.

Of course, I can't just stop here without defending my opinion, so I'll explain my rationale.

Montana high school football is better than Wyoming high school football; Part 1

All Montana games are played either on Friday night or Saturday afternoon—regardless of class. The only exception comes during the last week of the regular season (the beginning of the hunting season?) when many games are played on Wednesday because there is no school on Thursday and Friday.

The point I want to make here is that many Montana games are played Saturday afternoon—for those smaller schools and communities that don't have floodlights. Given any Saturday during the football season, there are typically over 20 games scheduled in Montana.

On the other hand, many schools in Wyoming without lights play on Friday afternoon. And a few schools even play Thursday afternoons or Thursday nights because they don't have classes on Fridays! As far as high school football goes, that's practically sacrilege in my opinion. If a school doesn't have classes on Friday, that's no reason to move its home games to Thursday afternoon or evening. Most everyone outside of the school still has another weekday of work (Friday) and who wants to go to a high school football game on a Thursday night and still expect to find the same "magic" in the air as a Friday night game? Of course having a game on Thursday afternoon is even more offensive and moving them to Friday afternoon is no better.

So why are so few (if any) Wyoming high schools playing on Saturday afternoons—referring to those schools that don't possess floodlights? Some have speculated that doing so would be interpreted as a disloyal act directed toward the University of Wyoming and its Saturday afternoon games in Laramie. If true, I find it incredible that attendance at a UW football game would suffer if communities like Burlington have their football games on Saturday afternoons as well. What of all of the Saturday high school games in Montana that are held when there are up to six Montana colleges hosting Saturday games including the University of Montana and Montana State University? Further, Montana's five high school championship games are typically played the same afternoon as the annual Cat and Griz (U of M and MSU) face-off!

From my vantage point, it doesn't seem to be very community-friendly when games are scheduled at anytime on Thursdays or a Friday afternoon. This would seem to be especially poignant in the smaller communities. The only people that are likely to get off work (in the case of weekday afternoon games) are family members of the players and members of the school community. Scheduling compromises such as this will surely be the demise of high school football just like churches would find dwindling membership if they suddenly started holding services on Saturday instead of Sunday mornings. And in a state that has the lowest population in the country, adhering to conventional Friday night football (or Saturday afternoons) is paramount.

As big a fan as I am, it's nearly impossible for me to travel to Wind River High School (located in in Pavillion, Wyoming, only a 3-hour drive) for a Thursday afternoon or evening game unless I make some major adjustments to my work schedule. However, I can easily make it to Rudyard, Montana (about an 8 hour drive up on the Hi-Line) for any Saturday afternoon game.

I wonder now if these scheduling cacophonies in Wyoming high school football have retarded attendance in the smaller towns already? Surely the game's allur has lost its luster, and if continued, might such alternate scheduling be the beginning of the end for the future of small town high school football in Wyoming?

Next up, Part 2 in the argument for Montana's superior high school football program.