Monday, September 19, 2011

Dubois, Wyoming: America's Newest 6-Man Gem

12 Players, Count 'em by mdt1960
12 Players, Count 'em, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
The last time I saw a football game in Dubois, the home team could barely field an eleven-man team. There might have been three to four reserves on the sideline, and anytime a team’s bench is that thin, there’s bound to be someone who is reluctant for any action—a five-foot, four-inch, 115-pound freshman in particular.

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.

PAT4 Rattlers by mdt1960
PAT4 Rattlers, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
As it turned out, program or no program, I was pretty stoked to be attending this particular game in Dubois, nestled up to the Wind River mountain range. My excitement had nothing to do with Dubois hosting their first home game as a six-man team or the fact that the Rams were ranked number-two and were about to battle Little Snake River, the number-one ranked team. Nope, it was because the game was on Saturday.

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

Firsts in the First Week

"Rocky" by mdt1960
"Rocky", a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Just for the record, I’m counting this past weekend as the first week of high school football in Montana and Wyoming even if there were a handful of games last week. Supporting my argument, almost everyone was on the gridiron this past week including the six-man teams.

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.

Break by mdt1960
Break, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
While sitting in the stands and enjoying the game, I wondered what would happen if someone blurted out, “C’mon Redskins!” Perhaps someone did (or will someday), but Red Lodge appears to have gone to great lengths in establishing and securing this new mascot name, including a “Rocky” the Ram costume worn by a Red Lodge student.

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
Off To The Game by mdt1960
Off To The Game, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Saturday I wondered into virgin football country just south of Bozeman to watch the very first football game played by the Lone Peak Big Horns (take note Red Lodge fans) as they hosted the Fromberg-Roberts Falcons.

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.

Open by mdt1960
Open, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Along with Red Lodge, the Lone Peak gridiron is one of the more scenic settings for a football game with its mountainous landscape encompassing the field and school. I hope they don’t install lights anytime soon.

Other Games
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?