Monday, October 01, 2012

A Brush With Small Town Greatness

Anthem Antics by mdt1960
Anthem Antics, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Related to the full moon, her text message said, “Moonlight is magical and brings you either luck or insanity.”

As a photographer, it’s a bit uncanny how the faces of these players stay with you through the years. You might not notice them when you’re walking down a street in any given town, but when you’re back in their small home towns—where they played football—it’s not unreasonable to think that you might bump into them… say, eight years later.

I was carrying on with my invisible act as I often do when I’m in public places and I don’t really know anyone. I hesitated about it, but before leaving Hysham, Montana, after the game, I decided to have a cold beer at one of the local watering holes. I sat at an empty high table—the kind fitted with the high chairs/stools—minding my own business and watching the interaction of the locals unfold. Several young men gravitated to my table but were facing toward the bar across from me. The next thing I knew, more gathered around which included sitting on my side of the table next to me. Suddenly, it appeared as if I was one of the gang.

The young man that sat next to me became recognizable almost right away thanks to friends calling out to him as “Scotty” and “Schultzy.”

I took a hard look and knew it was Scott Schultz, the great Hysham fullback and linebacker that lead the Pirates to a playoff appearance in 2004. They were a gutsy eight-man team with only 12 players and still managed to fight their way into the playoffs that year. After easily defeating Scobey in the first round, Schultz and his teammates gave perennial favorite Centerville the biggest scare in the quarterfinals, dominating the entire first half before succumbing to exhaustion and injuries (Schultz included) in the second half. It was a controversial game as well with questionable calls by the officials while fans from both sides became irate with one another. Had the Hysham team stayed healthy, they surely would have seen another playoff game the following week.

Earlier in the evening on my way to the six-man game between Hysham and Westby-Grenora, one of the ticket-takers shared with me how many of the kids that graduated from Hysham over the years headed for the good-paying jobs in the Bakken oil field rather than college—Schultz was one of them, she had said.

Looking Down On Big "H" by mdt1960
Looking Down On Big "H", a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Nearly finished with my beer, my invisible guard must have broke down as Schultz turned to me and asked where I was from. Like most of the crowd, I detected in his face that he probably already had a couple of drinks and so, I contemplated if it really mattered where I was from. I told him Powell, Wyoming and that I was just heading home. He followed up thoughtfully with, “That’s not too far to go.”

Knowing the conversation wouldn’t last much longer, I said, “You were number 32, weren’t you?” He seemed puzzled, but after clarifying that I spoke of his football number, he confirmed it was his jersey number. I then told him I’d seen him play in Ekalaka, Terry and Centerville. One of the guys across the table overheard me and said something akin to, “He must be stalking you Scotty.”

I handed Schultz one of my cards for good measure.

Referring to the Centerville game, Scott said, “We don’t talk about that game around here.”

Feeling like one of Clint Eastwood’s senior citizen characters I simply said, “You guys were one hell of a team,” as I rose from my chair. I patted him on the shoulder as I walked past and said, “Take care of yourself.” I placed the empty beer bottle on the bar and walked out.

I smiled all the way out the door and later laughed as I was driving out of town heading toward the interstate but, I’m unsure why. Perhaps it was just dumb luck in meeting up with one of these players from so long ago. Or maybe it was knowing that he might have sat there for a minute after I left—considering his own sanity—thinking in a somewhat inebriated state, “What the hell was that all about?”

Whatever it was, whatever had just happened it made me smile with an overwhelming sense of happiness. I knew it was magical, and there was the full moon above to remind me.