Sunday, August 24, 2008
Nevertheless, when I travelled to Highwood, Montana to photograph their six-man football team during their preseason practice and conditioning drills, I was totally blindsided when Highwood's new head coach Bart Hawkins informed me that Mike Nelson—Highwood's notorious head coach for the past 17 years—had left education as well as coaching.
My first reaction to the news was that of embarrassment because I hadn't heard, and—worst yet—I had mistakingly said "Good morning Coach Nelson" to assistant coach Dan McGee upon my arrival thinking he was Mike Nelson. But when Coach Hawkins informed me that Nelson's resignation had only become known to the public about three weeks ago, I felt a little better. Yet, I was still a bit upset with myself that I hadn't heard about this big story in the world of six-man football before making the 300-mile drive.
And big news it is. Consider Nelson's resume: During his tenure, while teaching mathematics, his teams notched ten Montana state titles—10 state titles, 17 years! No other six-man football coach in the country can make the same claim. His overall record was 133-22 including eight undefeated seasons. I suppose I was lucky to witness one of those rare losses back in 1999.
How could he leave with so much going for him? Even the most successful football coaches feel the everyday pressures that build up if not addressed. According to the Great Falls Tribune, Nelson's departure was a combination of wanting to spend more time with his family, escalating gas prices that made his 60-mile daily commute from Great Falls prohibitive and a new job offer that came along at the right time.
It's all good in the end. A new coach (Hawkins) gets to step up to the plate and show the world what he can do as well. And so a new chapter begins at Highwood High School.
Oh, and what's the new job for Mike Nelson you might be wondering? He's going to become a pharmaceutical salesman for an international healthcare company... Talk about a total change of direction.
Well, he's only 40-years-old and who knows, the coaching itch might need scratching again someday so, I'm not writing him off completely. Regardless I wish him the best of luck—however he may define it.
Postscript: As of the 2011 football season, Mike Nelson is now the skipper of Great Falls Central Catholic—a member of Montana Class C Eight-Man's Northern Conference.
Friday, August 08, 2008
I'm looking forward to visiting a few new small town football venues including Sanderson, Texas where the Eagles have maintained a pretty high profile when it comes to competitive six-man teams in the Lone Star state. After ten-plus years of small town high school football in Wyoming and Montana, I reckoned it was time to see the Texas version. This will be a personal record... over $400 (airfare to El Paso and car rental thus far) to watch one high school football game—not even a playoff or title match.
Why Sanderson? I'm hoping the setting of this little West Texas town will provide the backdrop that I've grown accustomed to in Wyoming and Montana. Besides, how credible can this body of work be if I've never seen a game in Texas... especially a six-man contest?
Then there is Victor, Montana—home of the Pirates competing in the Western C eight-man conference. I'm hoping to attend one of their two home games as well. Not a short drive in the context of 2008 gas prices. And I thought Sunburst was a long and expensive drive last year...
A little farther down my list are games at Culbertson-Bainville, Medicine Lake-Froid, and Lincoln in Montana. In Wyoming, there is Wind River in Pavillion—that place has been calling for years.