Thursday, April 10, 2008

Football Greatness: A search for its source

Highwood Mountains Network
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Just past the urban landscape of Great Falls, are the Highwood Mountains—a small outcropping and detached portion of the Northern Rockies and a mecca of sorts when it comes to six-man football in Montana. These mountains serve as the "backyard" to the two small towns of Geraldine and Highwood where 18 of the past 20 six-man titles games have included one or both of these two schools—often resulting as champion and runner-up in the same year.

In all of Montana, the fourth largest state in the U.S., these two communities are both located in Choteau County with only 30 miles separating them. However, most fans (and team busses) traveling between the two towns for the annual rivalry, drive a longer and smoother route because the shorter 30 miles connecting Geraldine and Highwood is an obscure and rugged dirt road—over and through the Highwood Mountains.

Highwood (pop. 189) is tucked away and hidden within the folding landscape of foothills and coulees—you never see it until you're practically there! The climb into the mountains from Highwood is almost immediate. A sense of refuge and wonderment surges the further one climbs. Descending from the other side, Geraldine (pop. 284) resides on the exposed and tapering prairie of wheat fields adjacent to the steeper slopes and is easily visible for miles as one approaches.

On Thanksgiving Day in 2002 after Highwood defeated Geraldine in the title game, I decided to travel the dirt road connecting these two towns to see if there was some magical or secret connection between the mountains and these two highly successful football programs.

As I drove along the higher elevations of the old road, I found myself looking at the trees carefully, taking note of the sky's colour and listening to bird songs—hoping to detect something different in these elements that might somehow explain why the kids from Choteau County excel in six-man football. I even considered taking a sip of the water from a nearby stream expecting it to somehow taste different than any other water. Gazing over the alpine landscape, I looked closely at several of the meadows thinking that I might discover the markings of a secretive, summer gridiron—a hidden retreat that would allow the two teams to start practice in July rather than August, and without the punishing heat associated with mid-summer temperatures found elsewhere in the state.

I imagined, but found no evidence of the teams riding in a school bus with an entourage of pick-up trucks in tow as they cross the mountain along the dirt road and arrive at some selected spot for a preseason scrimmage in one of the cool mountain meadows.

Yes, that would explain everything, wouldn't it?