Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gridiron Harmony: Winning Big & Sportsmanship

Finally Over by mdt1960
Finally Over, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
“Sportsmanship seems to fall by the wayside during the playoffs.” —2012 Montana Class C Six-Man title game spectator

FALL BY THE WAYSIDE: fail to persist in an endeavor or undertaking: many readers will fall by the wayside as the terminology becomes more complicated.

Sometimes good sportsmanship is a dicey thing to define but, if you ever need to see an illustration of good sportsmanship in its purest form, Montana Class C six-man football will likely give you the most prolific demonstration.

I found myself wondering about it as I watched the six-man title game in Hot Springs this past weekend. With a halftime score advantage of 49-0 over their opponent from Big Sandy, the Savage Heat continued to play their starters for the entire game despite establishing an unquestionable superiority over the Pioneers early on. The bleeding finally stopped when the last seconds ticked off even though the scoreboard read 77-0. Thank goodness for the continuous running clock.

From the Montana High School Association Football Handbook: “In Classes A, B or C (8 and 6 player) football game, if at any time the score differential reaches 35 points or more, the clock will not be stopped when: A) The ball goes out-of-bounds. B) A forward pass is incomplete. C) A fair catch is made or awarded. D) A touchback occurs. E) A first down is declared. If the score differential falls below 35 points, normal timing procedures will be utilized.”

Even the Billings Gazette mentioned the lopsided score, citing it as the largest winning victory in a title game, previously held by Moore when they defeated Brady 63-13 in the 1984 six-man championship. However, it fell just shy of the 80 points scored in one contest when Geraldine needed all but one of those 80 points to defeat Custer 80-78 in the 2003 title game.

When I asked a couple of Big Sandy fans about it, they weren’t as resentful as I would have suspected. In fact, the few I spoke with with were downright understanding but, they all agreed that pulling their starters after a big lead would have been their choice had they been the Hot Springs coach—if nothing else to give the reserve players the opportunity to have played in a title game.

Gray Breaks Free by mdt1960
Gray Breaks Free, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Let me say here that I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Hot Springs football team, and I take nothing away from their undisputed Class C Six-Man title. I’ve seen more than my share of six-man championships and this year’s Savage Heat could certainly run with the other past champions.

“It’s a coach’s prerogative,” cited one fan. “But, if I faced them another time and the tables were turned, I’d return today’s favor.”

I was tempted to ask one of the Savage Heat coaches what the motive was for leaving their starters in for the entire game with such a commanding lead but, I suspected that such a query would take away from a coach’s earned championship celebration. Simply put, it seemed like an unsportsmanlike question in the wake of such jubilation.

Ultimately my hope is that there was some hidden or unknown rationale for the apparent sportsmanship faux pas. Perhaps both coaches agreed before the game that no matter the outcome, they were going to play their starters the entire game because it would be their last (at least for the eight seniors from both teams who started). I’d like to believe that this rationale, although not obvious, was the factor in the overstated victory.

For all I know, there had been some trash talk going on between the two teams during the past week via an Internet chat room. That would certainly explain the game’s outcome as well.

Of course, some would say that such scores are often the nature of six-man football which I wouldn’t dispute. Yet, when an existing lopsided score becomes even more acute, it is often the result of the reserve teams adding their own tallies to the scoreboard.

Whatever the rationale behind the “piling on the points” by Hot Springs, I hope there was plenty of good intention behind it as opposed to the annihilation and humiliation of their opponent—which would be a contradiction to one of six-man football’s most outstanding attributes. Mind you, what often appears on the surface and the intentions underneath aren’t always the same, nor are they known by the average fan/spectator during such lopsided matches.

Small town high school football has always reminded me of the stories my father would tell when he played football in the early 1940s; a time when the game wasn’t hyped up, good sportsmanship was practiced by everyone who played, and there was an air of innocence to it—more so than today’s game. And back then, I’m told they didn’t have playoffs. So, after a 7-0 season all one could say was that their team went 7-0, period. There was nothing to prove beyond that.

Don’t get me wrong here: I look forward to the playoffs as much as anyone, but it is a bit disconcerting if their arrival somehow translates to a downgrade or dismissal of good sportsmanship.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Pnuemonia, Fuel Pumps and Football

Distracted Mechanics by mdt1960
Distracted Mechanics, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
A year ago this weekend, the weekend of the Montana quarterfinals, I had just started to consider which quarterfinal game I would attend for the upcoming weekend when I fell ill to pneumonia that progressed into septic shock—ultimately preventing me from seeing the completion of the 2011 season. The weekend before I had attended the first-round playoff game in Fairview where the Warriors had their way with Centerville. My travel plans for the following weekend were likely either Twin Bridges and their showdown with Chester-Joplin-Inverness or a long drive down I-94 to Savage and their matchup with Hot Springs.

This past Friday, I set out for a motel in Glendive that would serve as a base camp. Saturday morning I would wake up in Glendive and drive to Grenora, North Dakota to take in a Montana Class C six-man quarterfinal game between the upstart co-op MonDak (Westby, Montana and Grenora, North Dakota) and Big Sandy to finish what I started last season.

And like last year, the universe had other plans for me, only this time I wouldn’t fall ill, my truck would—in particular, the fuel pump.
First Fumble by mdt1960
First Fumble, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

The gasoline prices in Bridger, Montana are often cheaper than in my hometown of Powell. As a result, I fuel up in Bridger as I make my way to some far-off football game. This past Friday was no exception only when I started my engine after topping off the tank, it refused to fire. I’d experienced this before and it wasn’t long before I started suspecting the fuel pump.

From behind the Maverick store where I pushed my dead-in-the-water pickup, Fremont Ford in Powell informed me over the phone of an operation in Bridger that purchases parts from them on a regular basis so, they gave me the number to Carbon Equipment Repair, LLC. And at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon, Steve (one of the three mechanics) informed me that despite having six other calls on this late Friday afternoon (“Breakdown Friday” as he called it), he was going to try to squeeze my truck in. By 5:00 when most businesses are hurrying to shut down for the weekend, my truck was going up on CER’s lift.

On a side note and small plug for CER, their shop is an amazing snapshot of today’s American mechanization as they repair almost anything—from the small jobs like my pickup to semi trucks and farm tractors.

As it turned out, my truck needed more than just a new fuel pump as there were other complications with the wiring to the fuel pump and those parts weren’t readily available.
Beater by mdt1960
Beater, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

Despite the grim news that I wouldn’t be making it to Grenora, I had two reasons to be hopeful: first, Donovan, Dustin and Steve had an old beater Dodge Stratus that they would lend me until my truck was repaired. Secondly, Bridger was hosting one of the other six-man playoff games the next day. And despite attending two Bridger games already this year, I felt pretty lucky to have this option on the table.

As it turned out, I walked away from the weekend feeling that not only is small town high school football still a viable and rewarding sport for kids from such communities like Bridger but, small town America is still a great place to visit or live (if your lucky enough)—starting with the hard-working and tireless mechanics at Carbon Equipment Repair, LLC.

Footnote: This week’s semifinal lineup for Class C (both 8-man and 6-man) is quite unusual in that it resembles a Wyoming playoff scenario where in every matchup the teams have already faced each other during the regular season. Fairview thumped Ennis at the Brawl in the Beartooths during the first week while Superior was downed by Drummond in a two-point shoot-out back on September 21, Hot Springs defeated Geraldine-Highwood on August 31 to the tune of 45-13, and Valier topped Big Sandy by two points as well on September 28.