Monday, October 31, 2011
However, as mentioned above, things are different this year. I witnessed a Miner loss at Power against the Titans a couple of weeks ago and then again, this past weekend in their first-round playoff game against top-seeded Fairview.
In deciding which of the sixteen Class C games (both eight-man and six-man) to attend in Montana this past weekend, it was a tough choice that had nothing to do with seeing a particular team play—it was about the matchups. I knew the number-twos versus the number-threes would provide the most promise of excitement, but I started looking at the number-ones versus the number-fours and reckoned that Centerville would be the best challenge for any number-one seeded team.
Of course, I looked right past the Mustangs of Ennis and their excursion to Superior.
Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind I ascertained that the day would come when I’d see the Miners drop a game, but certainly not two in the same season. Because of this (and other questionable logic), I reckoned that Centerville had a real chance in Fairview based on the above… and three other factors. First, Centerville looked tough at Power even though they were eventually overrun by the speed-prolific Titans. Second, I reckoned that the Warriors of Fairview had only been tested once—against Wibaux, and rumor was that the Longhorns weren’t completely healthy when the two Eastern Conference powerhouses faced off at the end of the regular season. Lastly, Centerville’s skipper is Ted Richards, a seasoned eight-man coach who can take a bunch of average athletes and transform them into state contenders in no-time flat.
Despite my poor football logic, I feel pretty confident in saying that if Fairview can play their remaining games as they played against Centerville, it will take a monumental effort to defeat them—on their home turf no less. I’m a believer now.
The Future of Mining
In visiting with a few Centerville fans who made the long trip to Fairview, I was saddened to learn about the low student enrollment projections for future classes which means that Centerville might have to consider playing six-man someday. Typically, I don’t find such news too disturbing, but when a team like Centerville—an icon in the eight-man ranks—has to consider this scenario, it hurts a bit. That said, compared to no-man, six-man is always a nice alternative.
As I made my way down I-94 with this on my mind, I considered placing an advertisement in the Great Falls Tribune that attempts to persuade young couples with children living in the sprawling metropolis to consider the nearby “bedroom communities” of Centerville, Sand Coulee, and Stockett as great places to raise a family. This advertisement would also include an invitation to visit Coach Ted Richards about the football program.
Well, the good news for now is that the Miners are a young team. Of the 23 listed on the roster, 10 are sophomores. But, after that I’m told the numbers start dropping fast. Likewise, Fairview has a huge junior class with 13 juniors out of 24 on their roster. So, if the Warriors can’t be stopped this year, they might make next year look even easier.
I don’t like to cheer or favor any one team, but if a gun were held to my head and I had to pick one, Centerville would be way up there on my list. It’s a great location for a game as the gridiron is tucked away in one of the hidden coulees of the area and there are no floodlights, so home games are always on Saturday afternoons. Further, the Miners have always been a scrappy, no-nonsense team much like the Nittany Lions of Penn State.
As fans of the game, the loudest cheer should not be for our favorite team, but for the small town football programs like Centerville; that they will always have a school with enough kids to field a competitive team. It’s a wish that goes on and on, and hopefully fulfilled even after we are all gone.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Perhaps for their sake, I’ll stop attending their games just in case I’m the cause. Yet, like all football teams, good and bad seasons come and go. No doubt, Gardiner will be a contender again before long—perhaps even notching another state title in a few short years.
Keep in mind, the Bruins did win it all in 1997 and have seen limited playoff action in recent years. So, it’s not like Gardiner has a bad gene pool when it comes to football players.
Regardless of the team’s win-loss record, Gardiner is one of the great places to watch a game. There are no lights, so almost all home games are played on Saturday afternoon with Electric Peak looming over the gridiron (weather permitting). Rumor has it, even bison from nearby Yellowstone National Park have been known to show up for a game. And after the game, you can get a great bite to eat at Rosie’s Café or wander in the Park for the remaining few hours of daylight… talk about a double feature.
As I get older, I find myself more frequently considering those places in the country where I might retire. Of course, one of my conditions is that it must be a small town and there must be a high school football team in the community. For those two reasons alone, Gardiner might be on my short list when it’s time to make that decision.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
Even though it was the last official weekend of the summer, a touch of autumn was already in the air. Earlier in the week I had noticed a smattering of yellow leaves here and there within the trees of town and now, as I was making my way through Bridger, Montana on an early Saturday morning, the bank clock told me it was 39 degrees.
Continuing on up the road and approaching Laurel, Montana, I was thinking about the “regularity” of these trips into Montana to attend the football games in the state’s various small and obscure towns. One of those regularities had to do with where I found my second cup of coffee for the morning—lately it has been the City Brew in Laurel, Montana, just before I jump on Interstate 90 and head east or west.
There were some great games that weekend. Scobey at Wibaux, Harlowton at Joliet, Ft. Benton at Chinook—even the Powell Panthers (my town) were undefeated and on the road in Buffalo to face the equally undefeated Bison.
Nevertheless, I choose to attend an off-the-radar game in Moore, Montana where the winless three-school co-op of Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap faced the Refiners of Sunburst who hadn’t notched a win either.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Driving toward Moore that day, I considered another regularity in these Montana junkets—U.S. Highway 191. I started wondering how many times I’d been up and down its asphalt—maybe three or four times a year over the course of some ten years adding up to 30 or 40 roundtrips. Was it possible?
For me, U.S. Highway 191 begins in Big Timber, Montana—a place that acquired its name from Lewis and Clark as they gathered timbers to build rafts for their float down the Yellowstone River. From Big Timber, 191 is pretty much a straight north-south run with nothing but the foothills of the scenic (and usually snowcapped) Crazy Mountains and wide-open spaces farther north. There are no other communities that warrant a reduction in the speed limit until Harlowton, approximately 44 miles straight up 191.
Making up for the lack of human activity between Big Timber and Harlowton, any given traveler at any given time is likely to see mule deer somewhere along that 44-mile stretch—most likely just beyond Big Timber. I refer to that section of highway as “Deer Alley.”
Years ago when I was on my way to attend a six-man game in Geraldine, I left Powell on a Friday night with a motel reservation in Stanford. I followed a duel-wheeled pick-up truck out of Big Timber that Friday night, but I didn’t keep up with him. Somewhere in the foothills maybe ten miles up the road, I came across a sight I’d never seen—the fresh, fragmented and scattered remains of what was probably a mule deer that could have doubled as a suicide bomber. I attempted to slow my vehicle down as it started sliding on the animal’s spilled blood frozen to the cold highway. Fortunately I managed to maintain control of my car despite the steaming carnage. I half expected to find a wrecked pick-up somewhere off the road, but there were no signs that it had even passed through nor did I ever see it again. From that point, I easily remained wide-awake, driving through the dark Montana night and on to Stanford.
On any given road trip, the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter is a steady diet for my ears. On this particular day, her song “Alone But Not Lonely” grabbed me like no other time in the past. Its cello stirred me while the singer’s soothing voice ached with a question of who I was in my solitude on Highway 191. On that particular day I could definitely answer that, yes, I was alone, but hardly lonely in these wide-open places of Montana.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
Harlowton (or “Harlo” as some call it) might seem bleak in its first impression, but I have grown more comfortable with each visit to this football enclave. Whether camping in my truck at the rest stop/campgrounds by the rodeo grounds, or getting my morning cup of joe at the Snowy Mountain Coffee Shop, I seldom just drive through this community. Cruise down Main Street to the old Graves Hotel and you might find yourself fantasizing about purchasing and fixing up that historic landmark. Of course, Harlowton has been a terminal destination as well thanks to the Harlowton Engineers eight-man football team, and few football fields in the state are better illuminated than Harlowton.
Judith Gap Wind Farm awaits you. The highway splits the collection of giant turbines giving the traveler a feeling of smallness. The first electrical power started flowing from Judith Gap in 2005. Some might claim these monstrosities ruin the scenic value of such locations, but given a choice, I’ll take the clean symmetry of a wind farm any day over the chaotic and dirty clutter of equipment associated with a gas or oil field operation.
Past the wind farm and into the tiny town of Judith Gap, a milkshake is in order from the Judith Gap Mercantile if time permits and it’s the right time of day.
For me, something in the landscape… something in the world starts to change as you make your way north from Judith Gap. This is a magical place… a place where the sagebrush begins yielding to the winter wheat… where the light is different because the sun’s angle is lower.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Five miles off the highway between Judith Gap and Eddie’s Corner is the town of Buffalo with its five residents. If you have the time, have a look around this town that once was. It’s about as close to a ghost town short of actually being one. The old bank building and school are worthy of a visit—if nothing else to only stare and wonder.
Officially Highway 191 picks up again on its northern direction at Lewistown, but for me it ends near the town of Moore where it meets Montana State Route 200. This junction is known as Eddie’s Corner—named after the one business that provides round-the-clock meals, gasoline, a lounge and a handful of windowless motel rooms. Although Moore is not far away, it is out of sight, rendering Eddie’s Corner more like an outpost on the frontier.
Before embarking on my return down 191, I often have a meal at Eddie’s Corner following a Saturday afternoon game in the area and listen to the other customers talking about the various football games they attended that day from all over the state. Thanks to Eddie’s Corner, I usually know about the outcomes of two or three other football games before I ever read about them on the Internet or newspapers.
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Beginning this season, for better or worse, the Dubois Rams are amongst Wyoming’s six-man ranks. Personally, I think it’s a good fit.
Unlike many “six-man towns” I’ve visited, Dubois is a big town. In the last census, they notched 971 residents. In my travels, six-man communities are typically between 200 and 300 residents. Yet, the high school enrollment (9-12) at Dubois is a mere 54, which is right in the ballpark of a six-man program. Might we draw up a theory or two from these numbers regarding Dubois and its residents? One: there are an unusual number of households without children. Two: Many of these childless households are retired folks. Whether I’m right or wrong in my novice demographic analysis here doesn’t really matter. What matters is the Rams have a great fan base to draw on, and should they continue in winning, I suspect attendance could be daunting for home games.
Despite moving down in class, Dubois has at least one outstanding item to improve upon. Most shocking to me was the absence of game programs. Just to be sure, I asked around. I’ve seen many football games over the years in some of the poorest and smallest school districts, but never have I attended a game where programs weren’t waiting for spectators at the gate. Hopefully this was just a one-time slip up at Dubois. Small town high school football has much charm in the things that are not present, but found in larger class games. I’d like to think that missing programs are not one of those charms.
It’s been a lament of mine for years when it comes to attending Wyoming small town high school football games. In the past, if a game wasn’t on Friday night because a school didn’t have lights, they would hold their games on Thursday or Friday afternoons—never Saturdays like Montana—which was always extremely prohibitive for me working on Fridays. Even attending a game as close as Burlington (only 40 miles away) has required some conniving and/or sacrifice in the past. But here in the last couple of years (and maybe it has something to do with the formation of the six-man class), there are more games played on Saturday afternoons. So, I’m tipping my hat to the all the schools embracing Saturday games as well as the Wyoming High School Activities Association—I’m sure they’ve had something to do with this new scheduling trend too.
By the way, this particular game at Dubois was not only on Saturday, but at 3:00 instead of 1:00—providing even more cushion for travel time.
On a final and unrelated note… What are we to make of Tongue River’s woes? Playing in Wyoming’s 2A eleven-man class, the Eagles have forfeit their season because not enough kids signed up to play.Those students who did sign up are playing down the road with their 2A rival, Big Horn.
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
And if it was the first week, it was a week of firsts too, starting in Red Lodge with their newly minted mascot—the Rams. The game’s announcer started the evening with, “Good evening Redskin fans, welcome to a new era of Red Lodge Rams Football.” Once that was said, there was no looking back to the old mascot name as the new mascot delivered. Red Lodge went to work on the Herders (a uniquely Montana mascot name if there ever was one) of Big Timber, scoring the game’s first touchdown and never relinquishing the lead in the Class B eleven-man contest.
During the off-season the school and community of Red Lodge were actively considering and choosing a replacement for their old and culturally-insensitive Redskins. I was secretly and silently hoping a unique mascot name would rise to the top like Ropers, Silverbacks or Loggers, but it wasn’t to be.
For the history books, Red Lodge’s Dylan Buckstead will go down as the first Ram to score a touchdown on a 20-yard pass from quarterback Sean Sullivan in the first quarter.
Big Sky’s Lone Peak
The Big Horns were reminiscent of the Farson-Eden Pronghorns (yep, another classic mascot name) in their first season of play two years ago. Despite having more players than Fromberg and matching them in size, the Falcons were clearly superior in all of the fundamentals of football such as tackling, throwing, running with the ball and blocking—all of which are terribly critical early in the season.
Good coaching aside, I suspect this mastery of game fundamentals would also be attributed to the cumulative playing experience of the Fromberg-Roberts team. As a result, the Big Horn players, including its eight upperclassmen, will never forget Fromberg-Roberts—the first opponent of their budding football careers. After the six-man shoot-out and with his team huddled in the center of the field, Lone Peak head coach Tony Beardsley looked at his players, “Well, now you know what it’s like to get hit.”
Despite the somewhat lopsided score, the first-football-game-ever party did not appear to be spoiled by the visitors. The Big Horns treated the ski-based community and its large gathering of fans to a kickoff return, a touchdown pass and several big plays from its defense.
A welcoming congratulations goes out to the victorious Darby Tigers and the Hot Springs Savage Heat in their first eight-man and six-man games respectively.
Chinook and Superior… big wins over competitive conference foes. Will it be a downhill run for them into the playoffs?
Alberton and Ekalaka… the newest six-man contenders joining the ranks of Denton, Savage and Big Sandy?
Monday, August 29, 2011
Hell, I’m even reluctant about writing this here.
Nevertheless, here goes nothing. Call it “shameless self-promotion,” I’m guilty as charged. But, I’ll only mention it here and this one time.
I have a book that is available for purchase (see sidebar).
The book is not a compilation of everything you see in this blog, rather it is one chapter or one installment about one of the particulars of small town high school football—in this case it’s about the football fields where small town football is played.
NPR’s sports correspondent Mike Pesca was generous enough to write the foreword. So, a big “thank you” to Mike.
This first book is only 36 pages and not cheap, but those are the circumstances of self-publishing using an on-demand print provider (www.blurb.com). However, you can preview the book at no cost in case you can’t justify the dough of a purchase. Have at it… anyway you can.
Because it is only 36 pages, I couldn’t publish every football field I’ve ever visited. So, the good folks in Reed Point (for example) will be a bit let down to know that their nice little stadium adjacent to I-90 did not make the cut. Fear not however, there are other books to consider and I’m confident that Reed Point, its team, or some incarnation of playing football there will eventually make it to a page or two in a future installment.
Someone might be asking about right now, “When’s the next installment?” I’m thinking next year about this same time as another season begins.
Then of course there’s, “How many installments will there be?” Somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-12, but if I have my way, a “real” publisher will come along and rescue me from such long-term torment.
We’ll have to see. It might be just pie in the sky especially if self-promotion is critical.
Monday, August 22, 2011
But, what if a school doesn’t even have twelve players—enough to scrimmage in six-man? In the case of Highwood and Geraldine—two perennial powerhouses in Montana six-man play—this is exactly what happened.
Since 1988 these two six-man teams have notched 18 championship game appearances… that’s 18 of the last 23 title games. Of those 18 title games, 15 resulted in victory. In five of those title games, the two rivals faced each other.
Beginning this year, due to a decline in classroom enrollments, the high-octane rivalry of Highwood and Geraldine will transform into a six-man football co-op that is already turning heads. Lead by Geraldine’s veteran coach, Rod Tweet, the Rivals will be competing in Montana’s Six-Man Northern Conference.
Tweet is cautious about making any kind of predictions regarding his team as a state contender. “We don’t have the number of kids to compete anymore,” declared Tweet. “The kids we have are good kids, but injuries play a big role in the game. So, it’s not like we’re going to get together and have 25 kids to play football.” The Rivals started their first week of practice with 16 kids on the roster.
Talk of the merge commenced during last year’s football season. Both teams starting looking at their (already low) numbers and anticipated that each school would barely have enough to field a six-man team. The initial projections were seven players from each school. Tweet’s first discussions were with his players. “I told the boys we were at a spot where I didn’t know if we could finish the season, because injuries are part of football and we’ve had more than are fair share in the last two or three years.”
Born from a need to survive, the two Chouteau County football programs will forego their annual contest on the gridiron and whatever rivalry remains between the two schools will be nourished from the volleyball and basketball courts or the track.
Creating and maintaining any kind of athletic co-op is never easy—ask the folks in Custer and Melstone or Broadview and Lavina. There’s much to consider in all of the messy logistics that come together to make for a successful season regardless of the win-loss record. Some of the trickier orchestrations include: coordinating transportation for practices, selecting a team mascot and colors that both schools will adopt, choosing captains without showing favor to one school over the other, making homecoming week arrangements—all of these while pulling support from the participating communities. This becomes even more challenging and complex when two hotly-contested opponents like Geraldine and Highwood are asked to work together.
If there is one thing that might keep the bumps to a minimum, it will be the fact that the two communities have already established and maintained a co-op between their two junior high football programs for the past five years.
Even if the Geraldine-Highwood co-op is not the first, it is likely pushing the limits of daily operations required of a football team given the one-hour travel time between each school. Perhaps they can look to the six-man football co-op of Custer and Melstone for inspiration. These two schools have survived for over ten years with a 40-mile stretch of dirt road between them. But, there are casualties to consider as well, such as the short-lived Rapelje-Ryegate co-op. Rapelje now co-ops with Reed Point, while any Ryegate kids that wish to play football travel to Harlowton.
Despite the rich tradition of winning at Geraldine and Highwood, their real adversary in whether they ever bring a six-man title trophy home again might not be in the stiff competition they see each week on the gridiron, but all of the off-field logistical struggles required in maintaining a healthy and working co-op.
Postscript: The Rivals have four home games on the schedule, two will be played in Geraldine and two in Highwood.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
I’m unsure of the attendance numbers, but given it was held in Custer—some 50 miles from Billings—it was a pretty impressive gathering of true six-man football fans. If I had to guess, I’d start by laying credit toward game director Jim Goltz (also head coach of the Fromberg-Roberts six-man team) for this strong turnout.
For three extra dollars, spectators left the game with an extremely valuable program. I would have gladly thrown down five knowing it had the upcoming schedules for all 28 six-man teams inside. Finally, I can start planning for next year now instead of late August. And for whoever sells ads in next year’s program, I’ll purchase some ad space, so call me.
If I had to complain (and as many of you know, there’s always at least one from me), I’m a bit miffed on why both eight-man and six-man games are on the same night. I don’t mind picking one championship game to attend when they are all on the same day with winter bearing down, but given the flexibility of this time of year, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to at least have these two games a day apart from each other. I wouldn’t mind driving to Butte one day for the eight-man all-star shootout and turn around and drive to Custer the next day for the six-man all-star blast—or vice versa.
Better yet, give each game their own weekend and now we’re talking about some kind of awesome Montana summer vacation.