Monday, October 31, 2011

A Miner Story

Final Minutes by mdt1960
Final Minutes, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
I’ve never seen Centerville lose… well, not until this year. In ’99 they defeated Denton at home for all the marbles and then I saw them come from behind against Hysham in the 2004 playoffs (when Hysham was an understaffed, but tough eight-man team). Then I witnessed the Miner’s miracle state-title victory over heavily-favored Wibaux in 2006 followed up by a 2007 regular-season game on the road in Sunburst. There might be another C-ville game I attended, but I can’t be sure.

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.

Centerville Vista by mdt1960
Centerville Vista, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
As it turned out, my logic fell a bit short. Centerville was dominated by Fairview from the get-go, and it probably didn’t help that the Miners started the first quarter working against a stiff Eastern Montana wind. By the time the first quarter was over, the Warriors had already racked up 28 points. (Driving back from Fairview Saturday evening, I found myself wondering how often coaches have instructed their captains to choose the wind direction over kicking, receiving or deferring when the coin toss is won.)

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.

The Last Play by mdt1960
The Last Play, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Every team has their moment in the sun even if some get more exposure. But one thing is for sure, no school is always dominant—not even the (current) best known programs like Drummond, Wibaux, Denton or Centerville. Sure, they might remain competitive in most years, but despite the high-caliber coaches and steady flow of good athletes, none are invincible as we saw in Superior this past week. And like it or not, every school spends some time as a non-contender (even if some spend more time there than others). It’ll happen someday. One season in the future, a team like Shields Valley will win the state title while a perennial power like Wibaux fails to notch a victory. Hasn’t it happened already?

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.


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Benny Roberts

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