Sunday, September 29, 2013

Broadus: Smaller Now, But Prouder

Shutting Down Run by mdt1960
Shutting Down Run, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Maybe you’ve been to the Grand Canyon, but there’s a good chance you haven’t been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Likewise, there’s a good chance that any reader out there has been to Montana (maybe even living there now), but they haven’t been to Broadus (pop. 468).

Few would dispute that Broadus is a true off-the-beaten-track town. I once passed through Broadus by way of Biddle, Montana (pop. 61) on a tremendously hot, summer day excursion covering that little corner of Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. Because of the oppressive heat, I didn’t explore much that day, yet Broadus has been on my radar since. And when I learned last spring that they would start playing Class C eight-man, a game in Broadus became a priority as I mapped out another season of small town high school football in Wyoming and Montana. My eyes really lit up when I learned that their homecoming game would be played on a Saturday afternoon instead of a Friday night—and as I’ve stated before in other posts here—afternoon games always make for better images when it comes to photography despite the popularity and mystique of “Friday night lights.”

KinzersAddress by mdt1960
KinzersAddress, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Even though sports classes in Montana are based on enrollment numbers rather than a community’s population, Broadus is a classic eight-man town with 468 residents. Despite such population numbers, it has only been this year that they came down to Class C eight-man play. Up until last year, they were playing Class B eleven-man schools/towns like Baker (pop. 1,741), Forsyth (pop. 1,886), and Colstrip (2,248). “We were getting smeared” as Cody Kinzer, the wife of Broadus head coach Russ Kinzer put it so bluntly. Broadus would often line up against these other teams that possessed three times as many players on their rosters.

Further, according to his wife, Coach Kinzer has really put in the extra time this year. She thinks it’s a combination of more information about the other teams and strategies at his finger tips while he has had to adjust his coaching to learn the nuances of eight-man play. Kinzer’s job won’t be getting that much easier either as his Hawks are situated in the same conference as perennial powerhouse Wibaux.

And now, with several wins under their wings and not even half way through the season, the Hawks of Broadus have been lifted by something they haven’t experienced in a long time—pride and confidence.

It’s a good stretch from anywhere to Broadus… that is anywhere with a Walmart such as Miles City (Montana), Gillette (Wyoming), or Belle Fourche (South Dakota). Miles City is slightly the closest of the three “big cities” at 78 miles—Gillette is 88 miles, and Bell Fourche is 95 miles. One Broadus fan commented that she prefers to go to Gillette because it has a Home Depot. And if it’s health care you’re picky about, Belle Fourche/Spearfish seems to be the preference for many Broadus residents.

Homecoming Spirit by mdt1960
Homecoming Spirit, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Fifty years ago when transportation was less developed (both cars and roads), this isolated community was probably even more isolated. But today, people in rural communities are less inhibited to take off from such places. Eighty or one-hundred miles in one direction is simply a way of life in today’s remote towns of America—all the more reason for fans like us to attend an eight-man game in places like Broadus (and if you do, check out Seabeck’s Pizza and Subs).

Before the game with Froid-Medicine Lake, I told Coach Kinzer that I could easily see an eight-man championship game in Broadus someday (based on my years of travel to small town high school football venues). Everything has been in place for years, and now they are finally playing in a class where they can honestly compete.

I’m looking forward to that day when I’m following a string of cars over one of the few roads leading to Broadus—on our way to the state title game.

Postscript: The high school in Broadus is officially named Powder River County High School, but everyone says “BHS”—as in Broadus High School.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Football Phenomena: The Answer Is In The Stars

End-Game Handshakes by mdt1960
End-Game Handshakes, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
If you have ever been to West Yellowstone, Montana, you know it hardly feels like a small town. Located on the border of Yellowstone National Park, this community is a tourist magnet, and it shows—restaurants, motels, museums, fly shops, snowmobile rentals… you name it. But, when it comes to education, West Yellowstone High School is considered a small school—specifically when it comes to football, it is considered a Class C Six-Man program.

Further, given most “six-man-towns,” I never struggle in finding the community/school football field—even if I’ve never visited before. Driving into “West,” I was flummoxed by the continued growth of that community, and as a result, finding the school wasn’t automatic, even though I have attended several games there since 1999.

In short, West Yellowstone feels like Cody, Wyoming, but the Broncs of Cody play in one of the Cowboy State’s larger classes of eleven-man football.

And so, I was running late in getting to the West Yellowstone-Box Elder six-man football game. Coming from Red Lodge, Montana, I had anticipated a little over four hours of driving by way of the Park. However, it turned out to be nearly a five-and-a-half-hour trip thanks to the “bison jams” and road construction near Mammoth—not to mention the 45-mph speed limit.

This contest was of particular interest to me because Box Elder is somewhat of a resurrected program—fluctuating between a varsity and junior varsity schedule since 2005, including several years in the eight-man ranks before that.

Despite my tardiness, somehow I managed to arrive before the first half had expired and expected to find a game that already possessed a running clock due to a lopsided score in favor of the Wolverines of West Yellowstone. The score was lopsided alright, but surprisingly in favor of the Bears from Box Elder to the tune of 28-0. Looking over the program rosters, I was also a bit taken back by West Yellowstone’s low numbers—only eleven athletes on this year’s team.

For the remainder of the one-sided game, it puzzled me: how could a rural school like Box Elder field a football team that was so dominating over what appears to be a richer and more-developed school like West? Not that I’ve seen these things before, but it always baffles me. On top of that, Box Elder has struggled to field a team year after year, not to mention its roster is composed mostly of Native American kids—typically not known for being over-achievers when it comes to football, unlike their basketball accomplishments (a topic I’ve touched on before).

Coach Simpson & Ketchum by mdt1960
Coach Simpson & Ketchum, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Since then, I’ve been kicking around all kinds of answers to my question. I’ve even considered consulting an astrologist.

Perhaps it’s simply an enrollment thing. West Yellowstone may have more residents than Box Elder: 1,298 vs. 794, but Box Elder wins in the K-12 enrollment contest: 313 vs. 221.

Also, maybe football is finally becoming more accepted, supported, and is catching on in the Native American communities. After all, not every kid in any culture or society is talented in the same areas. Surely there are Kenyans who can’t run a marathon very fast or Norwegians who can’t stay upright on a pair of skis.

It could also be that there’s just more distractions or options for high school kids in West Yellowstone, while autumn in Box Elder, maybe it’s football or nothing else.

Finally, perhaps Box Elder just has some kids this year that are above average in athletic achievement. I was also told the squad has a pretty good connection to their coach, Ronnie Simpson, and good coaching goes a long way too.

It’s likely that the answer to my bewilderment on the Box Elder-West Yellowstone outcome is a combination of some or all of the above.

Well, if anyone out there has some concrete, fact-based evidence on such small town football phenomena, feel free to share it here—even if it’s in the stars.

Postscript: Here's another Native American football story with a Wyoming spin on it from my friend and journalist Ron Feemster at WyoFile.