Thursday, December 23, 2010

Celebrating Goal Post Relocations

Jumping Hornets
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Classification and alignment changes have been handed down from MHSA for another season and, once again, things look pretty exciting even if most of the schools that are discussed here are moving down in class.

First, let’s hear it for those schools/teams who have to move their goal post(s) as a result of moving from Class B (a 100-yard field) to Class C (an 80-yard field)—or vice versa.

Making the move up, along with expanding their gridiron will be Joliet. Best of luck J-Hawks as you get to meet up with Columbus and Huntley Project in your new family. Yikes!

Talk about living on a bubble... Can anyone tell me how many times Superior has moved from C to B and then back to C? Well, the last time they played eight-man (2008), they won the state title. And after two years of B-11, they are coming back to C-8 to “defend” their title. Consider this: What if the Bobcats made it to the title game in 2011 to face Chinook—who would be defending their title too? Talk about Frazer vs. Ali. Should that happen, I only hope the game is played in Superior since I’m not allowed back in Chinook.

Here’s a good one: Lodge Grass successfully petitioned to remain in Class B rather than move to Class C??? I suppose they’d rather take their chances against Baker over Wibaux. I’d be curious to know the last time the Indians (yep, that’s their mascot name) notched a winning season in Class B?

Also moving their goal post(s) and coming down from B-11 to C-8 will be Cascade (heading for the Northern C) and Darby (assigned to the Western C).

Check out the tentative 6-man football realignment and its new members (in red).

Alberton, Hot Springs, Lima, Lone Peak, St. Regis, Two Eagle River and West Yellowstone.

Ekalaka, Frazer, Jordan, Hysham, Lambert/Richey, Rosebud, Savage and Terry.

Bridger, Custer/Melstone, Denton, Fromberg/Roberts, Grass Range/Winnett, Reed Point/Rapelje, and Roy/Winifred.

Augusta, Big Sandy, Box Elder, Geraldine, Highwood, Heart Butte, North Star, Stanford/Geyser and Valier.

That’s 31 teams playing six-man football although Frazer and Box Elder will be limited to junior varsity competition. Makes me wonder if Willow Creek is revving up for another go in the near future.

Great Falls Central is moving up to C-8 joining the high and mighty Northern C, but they won’t have to move any goal posts.

Lastly, one of my “inside sources” informed me that there is/was some discussion regarding Highwood and Geraldine teaming up as a co-op. Does anyone realize how many times these two school have been in a title game in the last 15 years—often playing each other? That could be one powerful six-man team given their rich traditions of producing champions.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Chinook: Maybe Cold, But Not Crooked

Stroh & Company
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. —Billy Wilder

There’s no arguing that I’m not a controversial person, but the one thing I’ve always strived for is to avoid controversy when it comes to this particular blog. That said, I have come up short a couple times—last week would be one of those times.

I’ve had plenty of time to consider this, but earlier this week (you might say) brought me to my knees.

First, I learned—attributed to a couple of unsolicited phone calls from disgruntled Chinook fans—my boss, Northwest College Vice President of Academic Affairs, Bob Krenz has decided to break the link from the college web site to this blog in an attempt to deflect any “harm” that might find the college. Admittedly, I’m hardly crushed. After all, as far as this project goes, I suspect there are few people in the sandstone towers of NWC who really give a toss whether or not I travel 300 miles to a small town high school football game in Montana or Wyoming via icy and snow-covered roads. My impression over the years has always been that the NWC powers-that-be see little-to-no benefit in the extracurricular activities of its employees—and thus, prefer to have the public only know of its “esteemed” faculty in a sterile, unimaginative, one-dimensional plane. So be it and so much for "shared governance (again)."

Second, and more importantly, I received a phone call from a Chinook football mom who wasn’t satisfied with leaving only a comment on this blog. She clearly went out of her way to speak to me personally, so as soon as I heard her voice, I was determined to hear her out and keep my interruptions at bay—or at least to a minimum.

I learned that despite my damage-control efforts in the comments section of the previous blog, her biggest concern about the entry was that I had come across as doubtful or critical of the Chinook state football title because some of the players (including her son) were painted as employing non-regulation equipment (i.e., illegal cleats).

That is unfortunate and regrettable.

Hoping to not re-open a sensitive wound here, I can say that if I could do it all over again, I would have delayed the post until I heard back from my sources regarding my query on the rules and regulations of cleats. Had I done that, there would have been no need to use that two-sentence parenthetical text that said, “(More importantly are those even legal? Click on the image below to see for yourself.).” However, I was concerned (and impatient) that no one would reply promptly, so I posted the blog knowing that I could follow up later with the details of cleat regulations in the comment section once I heard back from my sources—which is exactly what I did. Yet, for whatever reason, that didn’t cut the mustard.

So, persuaded by this recent Sugarbeeter lobby, I believe it’s important to go a little out of my way here to acknowledge the legitimate title won by the Chinook Sugarbeeters in Class C eight-man football—which I’m happy to do and humbled that my input even matters. Further, it was never my intention to dispute the Chinook victory either, but rather to consider the validity or gravity of a few of the variables in the game that showed up that particular day.

Lastly, I think many have given me way too much credit for the things I’ve said here, whether they agree or disagree because, in my mind, once the dust settles and blogs like this vaporize, nothing speaks louder or truer through the years than a state championship trophy sitting in a school’s trophy case.

Congrats to all the fine folk in Chinook and their state championship football team.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chinook Surrealism

Sledding Chinookers
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
There’s no getting around it—it was just a weird weekend no matter how I analyzed it. From the 600-miles of treacherous, winter driving to the 74-6 title game score, I couldn’t have imagined anything like it. Maybe it wasn’t a nightmare, but it definitely felt like something out of a strange dream.

Who would have guessed that anyone (even a Class AA team) would have a running clock on Wibaux by the end of the first quarter? Wibaux?!?!?! Had I not attended the game myself, I would have been certain that someone was trying to play a prank on me, or that the newspapers somehow transposed the score.

One friend of mine said in a text message when I reported the final score to him, “That’s epic.”

But, was it epic or was it a hiccup with epic repercussions?

Not to take anything away from the Chinook Sugarbeeters and their convincing victory, but even the handful of Chinook fans I spoke with were a bit shocked by the game’s outcome as well.

They should have been. After all, Chinook was the same team that lost to Fort Benton during the regular season; Fort Benton lost to Drummond in the quarterfinals of the playoffs; and, of course, Drummond lost to Wibaux in the semifinals. Chinook also had a hard fight with both Charlo and Power-Dutton-Brady in the quarterfinal and semifinal games respectively. So, whether or not one believes that Chinook or Wibaux should have won, it’s probably safe to say that most Class C fans thought it would be a closely contested game.

Yet it wasn’t—not by any stretch of the imagination.

Admittedly, I had not seen Wibaux play this year, but few would question any Wibaux team’s moxie this deep into the playoffs.

Horn Feet
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
So, what happened? Why did Wibaux look like toddlers just learning to walk and run while Chinook (for the most part) navigated the icy gridiron with a much higher degree of success?

From my vantage point, it came down to something as simple as football cleats in explaining the huge discrepancy between these two teams. My bet is that Wibaux showed up in Chinook with the same football cleats they had been wearing all season long, while the Sugarbeeters clearly made some adjustments for the ice rink that served as the title game. And, since it was their home field, they likely would have had all week to experiment given the winter weather that finally materialized earlier in the week.

In comparing images from Chinook’s quarterfinal game at Charlo with images from their title game with Wibaux, there are numerous key Sugarbeeter players wearing a different shoe. Most notably, Chinook’s running back, Ben Stroh—the same one who had his way all afternoon with Wibaux—had experienced a footware “upgrade.” On the “normal” field at Charlo two weeks earlier, he wore a typical Under Armour molded-cleat shoe, but his choice of footwear in the “hockey rink” title game at Chinook was an Adidas screw-on-cleat shoe with what appeared to be metal-tipped studs. (More importantly are those even legal? Click on the image below to see for yourself.)

Before the game commenced, Chinook school officials permitted me to walk out on the field as they were clearing it from the accumulation of snow that resulted in the night before and early in the day. In many spots it was like a rough ice skating surface with grass mixed in it—as if the Zamboni malfunctioned while it was smoothing an ice rink. Where the field was void of such conditions, it was hard as a rock. With camera equipment in hand, I gingerly strolled the field and considered the best footwear for the frozen playing surface—hiking boots equipped with crampons or, the next best thing, steel-tipped cleats.

And so it was, one of Wibaux’s worst defeats in history.

Sadly, I left the game feeling a bit cheated—convinced that the cleat choice of the day (or non-choice) rather than pure football talent or play selection was the most influential and dominant factor in the game’s lopsided outcome. I wondered how it was that two teams who had gone so far in the season, playing on the forgiving gridirons of grass were now asked to settle the final contest in alien conditions that neither had seen all year.

I also wondered if this had been a regular season game, would they have still played?

Making Way
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Like that strange dream, here were two teams about to clash for the state title game in a setting that was somewhat surreal. Tents with heaters emerged on the sidelines for each team, motorized equipment was employed to remove snow from the playing surface, the temperature was less than ten degrees Fahrenheit, the field was a frozen, hard surface, players wore extra clothing to keep them warm even if they were active on the field. And most importantly, that one small (nearly invisible) detail regarding cleat selection may have been the most peculiar element of the day.

About an hour before the game commenced, I followed a couple of Wibaux players onto the field as they tested their footing on the icy gridiron. Following a battery of quick accelerations, cuts, sudden stops and challenging each other as lineman do, one of them innocently said, “Man, this is gonna be weird.”

Nothing was more true about the day.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Waiting Game... It's Worth It

Savage Indeed
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Maybe it’s the excitement related to teams who have never battled one another or maybe it’s the opportunity to attend a daytime game where I’ve never been, but I find the height of the Montana Class C (both eight-man and six-man) season comes during those first two weeks of the playoffs—the first round and the quarterfinals. It’s a “rich” time in that there are still so many venues to choose from and often the outcomes are very uncertain.

With the title games on the docket this coming weekend, and the available games are now whittled down to the bare minimum (even if they are the title games), I found myself reflecting on this juncture of the football season while attending the semifinal game at Big Sandy this past weekend.

It seems with each passing year, the ongoings of the other playoff games (i.e., those that are happening at the same time) become more available—even the other classes. For example, during the Big Sandy-Savage six-man shoot-out, we were updated several times by the announcer on the progress of the eight-man game at Chinook with Power-Dutton-Brady. Later we heard updates on the score in the other six-man semifinal game between Denton and Hysham. I suppose we can credit the infusion of cell phones for this effortless flow of scores between the obscure towns of Montana and other western states.

Oddly, there came no word from the showdown at Wibaux with Drummond nor was there anything mentioned about the other class games around the state. I wondered, was this simply because the games that were reported were fairly close by? It seemed reasonable that there might be someone from Big Sandy attending the game in Chinook because their nephew was playing, or something like that. And, wouldn’t Big Sandy have sent a scout to the Denton game should the Pioneers emerge victorious, allowing the scout to call in scores while working up a fresh scouting report on the victor from that game?

Elevator Stage
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Maybe I read too much into this little sidebar of an event. Even so, with improved and more ubiquitous technology and communications, I wonder if the day will come when we will see the scores from other six-man and eight-man games around the state posted on the scoreboards like they’ve been doing for years in the professional stadiums. It seems like a stretch here in 2010, but few of us probably thought cell phones would be so prolific a mere twenty years ago.

As the Big Sandy-Savage game was drawing to its exciting close, we were informed that Chinook had overtaken Power-Dutton-Brady in the fourth quarter and Denton was still in control of their game with Hysham. Despite all of this, after the Warriors of Savage were crowned the victors at Big Sandy, there was never another word on those other games. Walking to my truck afterwards, I kept my ears perked for that one last announcement, but it never came.

Into the Montana darkness and on to Eddie’s Corner, I remained in the metaphorical darkness as well regarding the outcome of those other games. At first I considered checking on-line via my phone to see if the scores were posted, but decided I would wait and hear about the outcomes via the old-fashioned method—reading about them in the next day’s newspapers.

I half expected to hear about one of the other games while eating my dinner at the Eddie's Corner cafĂ©—given it is such a central junction in the state. If that had been the case, I would have welcomed the news.

Nevertheless, after dinner I walked out into the darkest outlying areas of the truck stop’s parking area—beyond the parked semis—climbed into my cold sleeping bag in the bed of my pickup and wondered if Chinook had indeed held their lead after claiming it late in the game. “And what about Drummond and Wibaux,” I asked myself as I set the alarm on the cell phone? Was the Rainbow Club in Wibaux jumping with delight or were they drowning their sorrows again, almost a year later after losing to Drummond at home in the title game?

In an era that is being defined for its instant gratification, I fell asleep at Eddie’s Corner content with the idea of waiting to read about the scores in the Sunday newspapers, and therefore in synch with the rhythms of small town high school football.

Going Deep
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Here’s to the Big Sandy football team in giving the undefeated Warriors of Savage all they could handle. I’d especially like to salute the savvy play of sophomore quarterback Trevor Lackner. He may have thrown three interceptions in battling a swift Savage defense but he also connected two of his four touchdown passes to his “big men.” The Pioneers’ first touchdown came on a 36-yard pass to Dallas Briese—a five-foot, ten-inch, 220-pound junior and later in the game he found sophomore Kaden Beck on a 34-yard strike who stands at six-foot and tips the scales at 260 pounds. It’s doubtful that Briese and Beck could outrun any of the Warriors on the field, but it was Lackner who saw them open and had the confidence to throw in their direction.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Getting Your Six-Man Kicks

Winning Kick
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
I hadn’t seen anything like it since the Montana six-man title game back in 2003 when Geraldine’s Joey Boso went ten-for-ten in kicking PAT’s to lift the Tigers past Custer-Melstone in an 80-78 overtime victory. Even though the C-M Cougars scored more touchdowns in that game, it was Boso’s 1.000 batting average in PATs that made the difference amounting to 20 additional points for Geraldine.

For all of those non-six-man football readers out there, PATs in six-man football are worth two points while running or passing the ball into the end zone is worth one point. After all, what are the chances of finding a kid who can kick a football decently in a town of 300 or so? Add to that, there are only four players remaining to block the defense of six while the ball holder and kicker are occupied with their cooperative task. Nine blockers to eleven defenders (.82) is better than four blockers to six defenders (.67).

Regarding true field goals, they are worth four points in six-man play and up until this past weekend, I’d never seen anyone kick a field goal when it was fourth down—going all the way back to 1999 when I attended my first contest at Reed Point.

It started in Bridger this past Friday night, when Richey-Lambert’s senior kicker Jack Switzer converted six PATs for his Fusion in a first round playoff game. More importantly, shortly before the half ended, he kicked a 20-yard field goal that tagged on another four points to their big lead. Although the field goal was not instrumental in their victory, it was indeed the first I’d stumbled upon in all these years. (On a related note, Switzer also contributed three touchdowns to the Fusion’s victory as he racked up 34 of Richey-Lambert’s 60 points.

From Bridger on Friday night, I was in Great Falls by Saturday at 1:00 for another six-man playoff game between Great Falls Central Catholic and Augusta.

Richey-Lambert PAT
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Wearing pink socks in support of breast cancer awareness month, Augusta started out strong and kept the Mustangs of GFCC on the ropes for most of the first half. However, by the middle of the third quarter it was clear that we had two evenly matched teams. Late in the game, the Elks of Augusta evened the score at 39 a piece.

Prior to the stalemate late in the contest, the kicking game for each team had barely materialized. Despite having scored six touchdowns each, Augusta and GFCC had only succeeded once in converting their PATs via a two-point kick.

So, as the Mustangs marched the ball down the field with time running out, they found themselves staring at a fourth-down situation in Augusta territory. Normally when a six-man team is in this kind of dilemma, they go for the first down. Further, given that it was so late in the game, I reckoned GFCC had nothing to lose by making such an attempt—whereas if they failed to make the conversion, the game would likely go into overtime.

Instead, GFCC nonchalantly had their star quarterback Derek Moes set up for a field goal from 33-yards out after he had only been successful in one PAT all afternoon. Unlike a PAT, if the kick is blocked, it would be a live ball for an Elk player to pick up and take it to the “house.”

As it turned out, it was a text-book field goal—as if Moes had been making them all afternoon—sealing the victory for the Great Falls Central Catholic Mustangs.

As the ball floated between the uprights and over my head, I stood there stunned for several minutes and considered the high-octane drama of what I had just viewed in this sport’s smallest venue—six-man football.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bracket Brouhaha

While most of the Wyoming teams are beginning the playoffs battling teams they’ve already seen during the regular season, the fun really begins this weekend in Montana Class C action as inter-conference play commences. The only problem is deciding on where to go in the sixteen small town high school football games scattered across Montana.

Six Man
In six-man action there should be plenty of excitement unless you’re a Lima Bears fan who will be travelling all the way to Savage to face a very good and undefeated Warrior team. Get out your Montana road map and just zen on the distance between those two locations. There’s an entire weekend lost to one football game that will still entail a bit of night driving. It’s going to be one long bus ride for the Bears no matter the outcome.

The Bridger Scouts are going to have their hands full in hosting the Richey-Lambert Renegades. Along with Augusta, Richey-Lambert is one tough third-seeded team. Look for the also-third-seeded Elks to give Great Falls Central Catholic all the action they can handle too.

Eight Man
The best game with the most uncertain outcome will likely be Power-Dutton-Brady at Culbertson—another long bus ride. It’s not often that a third-seeded team has only one loss during the regular season.

Wibaux had a close call with Circle late in their schedule (I’m still not sure what that was all about), so we’ll know much more about their degree of “Wibauxness” when they host road-weary Chester-Joplin-Inverness from way up north.

The Lynx of Lincoln visiting Joliet could be an interesting battle too. One has to wonder if these two teams have ever faced each other.

And on a sidenote: It was an odd year up north for the leaders in both classes of play—reminiscent of an M.C. Escher drawing. Specifically, PDB defeats Fort Benton, who defeats Chinook, who then defeats PDB. While in six-man, Augusta defeats Valier, then loses to Big Sandy, followed by Valier defeating Big Sandy. Talk about chasing one’s own tail.

Lastly, it’s nice to see some new blood in the playoff mix. So best of luck to White Sulphur Springs, Lincoln, Fairview, and Valier.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lights, Action… Football

Hough's Watch
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
As was promised, the new lights at Savage were every bit as bright as the eight-man venues of Harlowton and Ennis. In fact, I would bet a dollar or two that light meter readings at Savage would exceed those of my hometown Powell and its lighted gridiron which sees action from Wyoming’s second largest class of eleven-man.

Maybe not for everyone, but one of the highlights for me was when the “light guy” trekked around the Savage gridiron before the game with a ladder and turned on each of the four separate units. That was a pure small town high school football moment.

I haven’t been to a game in Savage since the season opener against Wibaux in 2003—when they played eight-man football. A lighted gridiron allowing for Friday night play and a new game level was all I needed as an excuse to return in 2010.

The actual game between the hometown Warriors and the visiting Terriers from Terry (another team that recently moved from eight-man to six-man) delivered all the excitement that one would expect between two undefeated teams—especially the first half. Some might argue that perhaps the only difference between the two teams might have been an injury suffered by a key player for the Terriers in the second half—whatever the case, hopefully it’s not a season or career-ending injury for the athlete.

As a result, the combination of Savage and Terry should make the Eastern Conference very competitive in the upcoming playoffs. Expect the same next year too, especially from Terry in that they are only losing their starting quarterback Jerett Freiboth to graduation. (On a sidenote: Freiboth throws the ball with the greatest of ease.) Savage will lose three seniors to graduation, but the current junior class is composed of five players.

Lights On
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Applied Math
For all those 11-man football fans out there who look down their nose at six-man and eight-man football, here is a school enrollment and roster ratio comparison between Savage, Terry and my hometown Powell Panthers:
Enrollment (9–12)/Roster/Ratio
Savage: 29/12/.4137
Terry: 53/14/.2641
Powell: 500/about 50/.1000

If Powell had a turnout for football like Savage, they would have about 206 kids on the football team. If Savage experienced a turnout like Powell, they would have a football team with 2 players.

Speaking of key injuries and their impact on the six-man game: Great Falls Central Catholic starting quarterback, Kelby Depner was out this past week with a concussion sustained during their match-up with Denton in the previous week’s contest. Going into this past week’s game, the Mustangs (5-1) were heavily favored (their only loss to Denton) in facing a 3-3 Roy-Winifred team (last year’s state champions). As it turned out, GFCC lost their homecoming game to the Outlaws 43-0. In another scenario, perhaps Roy-Winifred is making another late-season dash for the title as they did last year.

Here's a follow-up story on the Savage team after their victory over Terry.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Chase Is Still On… Five Years Later

A Great Eight
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Five years ago, I took a special trip to Drummond, Montana with the hopes of photographing members of their Class C eight-man championship team—beyond the action of their games on the gridiron. Suffering from an upper-respitory cold combined with a 300-mile drive, I was determined to catch them at a mid-week practice in hopes of witnessing just a small bit of the ordinary in this extraordinary team and its players.

Clearly there was something special about that Trojan team as they drew nearer to their third consecutive Class C eight-man state title. Arguably, there were only two games that were ever in doubt during those three years and even that doubt was swept away by the third quarter. I also suspected that it would be a long time before I ever saw anything like this again in my small town football haunts—maybe never.

Most notably in my eyes was that Drummond was not only a team that went undefeated in three years, but handily defeated other undefeated teams. There was Belt, Harlowton, Wibaux, Big Sandy, Chinook, Stanford, and Park City—all undefeated teams that suffered great losses (many shut-outs) when they finally met up with the Trojans in the playoffs or title game.

For the record, from front to back in this photo; that’s Tyrell Cockrell, Chase Reynolds, Cody Alt, Petey Carillo, Clay Cantrell, Cody Baker, Eric McGregor and Alex Verlanic. Funny, I still know there names and remember how to spell them. How is it possible that the youngest of men can make a lasting impression on a middle-aged one?

Looking back, one could almost see them as immortals in the realm of eight-man football, but we can be sure that each of them has gone on to experience their own setbacks of humanness whether on the field or elsewhere.

In all three years Chase Reynolds was first team all-state on both sides of the ball, but it was clear that the other Trojan starters were all-state material as well, especially if they had been scattered amongst the other Class C teams—and perhaps even the higher classes. Nevertheless, many still joined Reynolds on the all-state team that was heavily weighted with Drummond talent.

Over Drummond
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
This past week, maybe an hour’s drive down the interstate from Drummond, University of Montana senior running back Chase Reynolds, broke a school record in notching his 54th career touchdown for the Griz. Having watched Reynolds play high school, it doesn’t surprise me too much but it does seem a bit surreal in that he came from such an obscure venue of the game. It will seem just as surreal if he is gainfully employed in the NFL by this time next year. Congratulations Chase. In the words of a colleague, “Strong work.”

As a footnote, Alex Verlanic is still blocking defenders for Reynolds as the starting center for the Griz.

Lastly, thanks to Drummond head coach Jim Oberweiser for allowing these photos to materialize on that October day back in 2005.

Other Drummond-Related Entries:

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Plan B and Zenning in Bridger, Montana

Score Crowd
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Like some guy who just retired, I just sat there and watched the game—for once. Well, a good part of it anyway.

Plans for Great Falls Central to see their six-man showdown with Stanford-Geyser were nixed due to the loss of a friend and the resulting funeral to attend on Saturday. I considered the next best thing—the nearby Bridger Scouts were at home on Friday night for a six-man contest with Reed Point-Rapelje—a mere one-hour drive from home.

I’ve attended at least two other games in Bridger over the years, so this was probably more about a trip to get my weekly dose of small town high school football rather than attend a game in some remote location I’d never visited. Thus, my decision to sit and watch the game as the camera equipment was demoted to secondary.

But, strange things happen when you sit and “observe” from one location. You start seeing things that you might not see while moving about during a given event like a football game in Bridger, Montana—things that an image from a camera might not illustrate very well.

Anxious Parents.
Near the back corner of an end zone, I watched with fascination as a concerned Reed Point-Rapelje mother juggled a conversation with (what were probably) other parents while intensely watching the game. I suspect she had a son on the field. The group of parents were right at the back corner but as each play came up, this particular mother would drift away from them—perhaps only five or ten yards—toward the goal post and once the play ended, she drifted back toward the congregation and picked up the conversation again. This went on for at least an entire quarter.

A Scoreboard Community.
Bridger has a low-seated scoreboard that is placed on a small hill overlooking the gridiron. It is so low, that an adult could stand in front of the lower-positioned stats (such as the down or quarter indicator) and block a good portion of the displayed numeral. Further, the scoreboard is beyond the lighting of the gridiron floodlights and as a result, makes for its own “illuminated community.” Here—away from the gridiron’s lighted perimeter—is where you’ll find many of the students congregating, or as in the case of the younger kids, taking up their own football game just like any other Friday night football setting in the country.

While those approaching retirement consider the climate (as in weather) of what will likely be their final residence, I suspect one of the retirement home factors for me (when that day comes) will likely include the proximity to the settings and action of small town high school football.

Shoutout: Chinook Sugarbeeters and their resounding victory over Power-Dutton-Brady complicating the Class C eight-man North with a three-way tie for first: Chinook, PDB and Ft. Benton.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Remembering The Titans... and Refiners

Zig and Zag
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
This past Sunday morning’s edition of the Billings Gazette had the typical listings of high school football scores. It’s usually pretty thorough when it comes to getting all the scores, but sitting in the Laurel City Brew coffee shop that morning, I noticed that there was no mention of the game I attended on Saturday afternoon in Moore.

A grin came across my face as I said to myself, “Another mission in obscurity completed.”

Although nothing was printed about the game, it was a doozy as the Tri-City Titans and the Sunburst Refiners rumbled in a knock-down, drag-out, eight-man shoot-out that resulted in over 100 total points on the scoreboard—with the lead changing hands several times before the final gun sounded. In a reference to the high-scoring game, one of the four officials on the field turned to me and said, “I didn’t know we were working a six-man game.”

Great Falls Refs
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
On paper, the game probably didn’t have that much appeal to someone who might be looking for a battle of undefeated teams. In this case, both teams were winless coming into the contest and even though there was a victor and a runner-up, both teams had something in common to cheer about—each scored a lot of points.

Billings Gazette take note: Tri-City Titans 59, Sunburst Refiners 44.

On a related note...

The Tri-City Titans represent the high schools located in Hobson, Moore and Judith Gap—a three-school co-op. I asked about how the colours of green, black and white along with the mascot name were selected. One source told me the following: about three years ago each school submitted two mascot names for the co-op. With six names coming forward, the three schools voted and “Titans” tallied the most votes. The colours are neutral to all three schools. The Hobson Tigers are orange and black, the Moore Bulldogs are Columbia blue and gold and the Judith Gap Tigers are royal blue and gold. The Titans rotate their home games between Friday nights in Hobson and Saturday afternoons in Moore. During basketball season, Hobson students put the orange and black on, making up their own team while Judith Gap and Moore form another co-op.

Shout-out: Congratulations to the Hays-Lodgepole Thunderbirds for already notching their first victory of the year (48-30) over the Froid-Medicine Lake-Grenora Red Hawks.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Autumn Habits, Ghost Teams and The Olive Garden

Highwood, Montana
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Every year small town high school football comes and goes. And after it’s over—like Brett Favre—I’ve told myself and others that next year I’ll likely stay behind and only attend a game or two in the 100-mile radius of home. However, unlike Favre, there’s no million-dollar contract enticing me to travel the same distances as any previous year—not even the promise of gas money.

Perhaps my want or need to stay home has much to do with the fact that I’ve been almost everywhere in the two states of Montana and Wyoming when it comes to this genre of football.

So last week, I serendipitously obtained all the schedules for Montana Class C (six and eight-man) from the website of KPAX in Missoula. (BTW: kudos to KPAX for pulling all of these schedules together in such a thorough fashion.) It didn’t take long for me to spot a game here and there that I would like to attend. The next thing I know, there’s at least one game every week that I am eyeing up through mid-October. And not long after that, the playoffs begin.

Did I mention there are 27 teams playing six-man football in Montana this year—and another 36 teams signed up for eight-man play?

Obviously I’m hooked... again. And I haven’t even seen the schedules for Wyoming or a select few locations in Idaho that are realistically out of reach.

The truth is, I haven’t attended a game everywhere in these two states, but I have had time to survey almost every small town high school football setting (i.e., driving by any given gridiron during the off-season or on my way to another game somewhere else).

I suppose this means my work is not finished—not as long as teams change from one class to another or other schools introduce new teams in the stream of play.

Which makes me reminisce about a few schools/teams that have not fielded teams in years. Whatever became of the teams and players from Willow Creek, Belfry, Brockton, Box Elder? Are they teamed up with other schools in much the same way that resulted in Brady joining Power and Dutton or how Rapelje and Ryegate split to join Reed Point and Harlowton respectively?

Well, in case there’s anyone out there reading this that might wonder what I have in mind for this season, here’s my goals...

Power-Dutton-Brady: the Titans will also play a Saturday afternoon game in Dutton. Located off the Interstate 15 north of Great Falls, there’ll be no time for yard work on that weekend.

Fromberg-Roberts: this is about as close to home as I can get. About an hour drive. Though I’ve attended plenty of Fromberg and Roberts games in the past, these settings will serve as a reprieve from the typical hours of driving while still fulfilling my need to see a game.

Tri-Cities: That would be Hobson, Moore and Judith Gap—“Tri-Towns” might be a better name. One of their home games is scheduled for the gridiron in Moore on a Saturday afternoon instead of the usual dim-lit games in Hobson on Friday nights.

Great Falls Central Catholic: This is may be one of the few places in either state where you can witness a small-town football game in a good-size city like Great Falls. It may seem odd to the readers out there, but I’ve never been able to go to the Olive Garden immediately following a Class C football game. On a related note, I see Billings Christian is fielding a six-man team this year as well—providing another venue for small town football within a metropolitan setting.

Lastly St. Regis: Another lost weekend of driving for one six-man football game. This will be the Tigers first year of six-man football.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Neutrality's History in Small Town Football

Custer Field
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
At some point in my travels to various small town football games in Montana and Wyoming, I remember a few people here and there telling me about football games that would sometimes be played at a neutral site—so one team didn’t have to travel so far. And back in the old days, that neutral site was often some empty wheat field in the middle of nowhere.

I’m unsure of the mechanics in such scenarios, but it must have been a sight. Imagine the kids getting off the busses and spending the first hour or two just preparing the field—cutting down some of the higher weeds and measuring off and chalking the field. Did they even have referees? How did they even locate a particular field, let alone agree on a particular remote area?

I’d like to see a re-enactment of this little slice of small town high school football history. But for now, if you’re someone who knows of a particular account or heard of such events, feel free to tell us about it in the comment section below or you can email me at:

As for today, this concept is still used on occasion, only it’s not nearly as primitive. In fact, there’s nothing primitive about it at all. In this first weekend of the 2010 football season, Custer, Montana (where six-man football is played) will host an eight-man double header consisting of four teams that will travel to Custer’s “Field of Dreams.”

In the opener (1:00 p.m.), Eastern Montana powerhouse Wibaux (“The Beast from the East”) will face the Absarokee Huskies. Both teams are rich in football lore accounting for at least eight Class C titles between them in the past 25 years. The nightcap (7:00 p.m.) features Harlowton-Ryegate taking on the Wildcats of Circle.

There will be two separate admissions, but whatever the cost, it will be well worth it.