Monday, October 27, 2008

Living Up To The Rivalry

End Zone View
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
The first time I witnessed the battle of Choteau County (aka Highwood vs. Geraldine in six-man football) was on a cold and rain-soaked Friday night at Highwood in 2004. The Mountaineers were loaded with talent that year and easily defeated Geraldine in the last game of the regular season and went on to win another state title.

I remember walking away from that game with my soaked camera gear thinking that it wasn't exactly what I expected when considering past games I 'd heard about (or imagined) between these two schools—games that were played under a bright, blue Montana sky and were fiercely contested.

This past weekend I decided to give this contest another try—especially after hearing the game was scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Highwood despite their well-lit gridiron that catered to Friday nights.

Jump BallOriginally uploaded by mdt1960
With the exception of a blustery and continuous wind, the 2008 Geraldine-Highwood grudge match lived up to its billing in my head. Both teams were clearly talented and not until Highwood depleted themselves of downs deep in Geraldine territory with seconds remaining on the clock did the fans in attendance realize the game's outcome.

So, congratulations to the Tigers of Geraldine in their 22-18 victory over Highwood and congratulations to both teams for securing home-field playoff berths. Most of all, congratulations to both teams for living up to their great rivalry.

Having travelled to Texas earlier this year to see how the Lone Star state does six-man football, I truly believe in my heart—given the gridiron settings of both Geraldine and Highwood— that I can say, "You still haven't seen six-man football until you've seen a Highwood-Geraldine game."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Elements of Football

Little Lambeau
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
If this past weekend's three football offerings had to be summarized in one word only, it would be "winter."

With only a third of October in the record books, an early winter storm moved in late Thursday evening and dominated the scenario in the three-town, two-state itinerary I threw together. First there were the snow flurries and blustery cold wind in Burlington and Byron, Wyoming. Saturday afternoon in Fromberg, Montana was the cherry on top of the sundae. I wondered if I would even complete the typical one-hour drive as the falling snow went from light flurries to heavy flakes between my home in Powell and the gridiron in Fromberg. By the time I reached the Falcons' home field, there was about five inches of wet snow covering the turf—complete with coaches and other staffers who were hand-shovelling the snow covering the yard line and sideline markings.

Beginning Friday afternoon in Burlington, it was a battle of 1A powerhouses (the smallest schools) between the Burlington Huskies and the Panthers of Cokeville. Given Cokeville's extreme location (on the Idaho border), it's usually a long road trip for their away games. I'm guessing the travel to Burlington was easily over six hours. Despite such disadvantages, the Panthers are always in the hunt of the 1A state title—often the victor. In contrast, Burlington has struggled over the years when it comes to games with Cokeville, but on this past Friday the difference was Burlington's successful PAT conversion following their only touchdown while Cokeville came up empty-handed after their single touchdown.

Cokeville Hoods
Originally uploaded by mdt1960

* * * * *

Typically I don't drive home after Friday night football games, but Rocky Mountain High School in nearby Byron, Wyoming is the one exception because it is only 15 miles from home. It's been 11 years since I first attended a football game at Rocky—where this modest project all started. On this particular night, I was curious to see Wind River play again after attending one of their home games earlier this season.

In what was probably attributed to the foul weather conditions, attendance was poor compared to other games I've attended in the past. Most notable however is little has changed in this small football venue—especially the lights. They seem dimmer than ever. From a photographer's perspective, I'm guessing Rocky's lights are at least three f-stops dimmer than the average illuminated gridiron. Imagine going to a well-lit football field wearing sunglasses.

Lights Of Byron
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Forty non-quartz (old school) bulbs illuminate the entire 120-yard field (end zones included) at Byron—that's four poles of lights on each side of the field, each pole holding five bulbs and their corresponding reflectors. The scoreboard is bright enough to count as a ninth set with its multitude of tube lights used in the making of digits in the south end zone.

In the darkness of the last quarter I decided to put away the camera and have the quintessential small town football experience—watching the game from the inside of my truck. As the engine idled away providing ample heat in the cab, the cold wind continued to blow across Rocky's muted gridiron.

The game's outcome wasn't a big surprise. Wind River easily won, although it wasn't until the second half that they finally controlled the game. The last time I looked on the scoreboard from the truck it was 36-6 with 11:52 remaining in the game.

As I drove back to Powell, I fantasized about spearheading an effort to raise money for the installation of bright and modern lights at Rocky Mountain. Given what other people spend to attend big-time college or professional games, I reckon I'm good for the first $100 toward such a cause. Are there any other takers out there?

* * * * *

Traveling to Fromberg on Saturday, my intentions earlier in the week were two-fold as I planned for a game between the neighboring schools/towns of Fromberg and Bridger—less than ten miles apart from each other.

First, I wanted to see if Bridger was as good as their record indicated.

Secondly, I suspected that this meeting on the gridiron might have been rather historic given that for several years the two have played together as an eight-man co-op. And when not sharing a team, Bridger was playing eight-man while Fromberg competed at the six-man level.

When I awoke on Saturday morning to a couple of inches of snow on the ground and more falling, I considered the two games from the day before at Burlington and Byron to be good enough and I'd simply stay home. Fortunately, I reconsidered the possibility that the game in Fromberg might look something akin to what was out my window. My only fear was driving the 60-some miles and discovering upon arrival that the game was cancelled.

In deciding to live life on the edge and completing the drive to Fromberg, I learned that Bridger is indeed a solid six-man football team and will likely go deep in the playoffs. My guess is they can play at the same level as Hysham, West Yellowstone, Geraldine and Lambert. It might come down to the team that can stay injury-free during the playoffs.

Face Mask
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
When asked about the last time Bridger and Fromberg competed on the same football field, no one seemed absolutely sure, but most thought it had been only eight years. I was hoping to hear that it had been something like 30 years.

Finally, the snow. It was awesome. Never have I witnessed a football game under such conditions... much less photograph it. Fortunately the game-ending injury to Fromberg's Andrew Wallman won't be the lasting memory from that day for everyone involved. Knowing he will only miss a few practices, perhaps both teams will look beyond the victory or defeat and simply remember the game for it's pure sense of frolic and romp on the snow-covered gridiron.