Saturday, September 26, 2015

Meeteetse: It Can Be Complicated

The Pronghorns of Farson-Eden made the 200-mile-plus trip to Meeteetse only to find themselves down 53-0 at the half. Hullet and Little Snake River made even longer trips (290 and 306 miles respectively) with results that weren’t quite as lopsided, but nevertheless, lopsided. And to travel that far and lose surely makes for a long and gloomy bus ride back home—arriving in the early morning hours of a Saturday following a Friday night contest. Let’s hear it for the bus drivers as well.

Yet, if some schools have to travel great distances to play Meeteetse on their home field, at some point The Longhorns’ schedule demands they return the favor. So, next week they have a road game in Dubois which will require a three-hour bus ride (and another three hours home). Yet, the ’Horns have two things going for them. First, they are expected to easily win. Second, Dubois doesn’t have lights, so the game will be Friday afternoon providing Meeteetse’s players and coaches a civil arrival time back home in their town of just over 300 residents. Further, if it wasn’t for the high peaks and mountainous terrain of the Shoshone National Forest between the two towns, it would be even a shorter trip (see map sans the longboard advertisement). Such is high school sports in states like Wyoming and Montana.

On a lighter note, Meeteetse is the most misspelled town name in America, but you won’t find it misspelled here. Stick that in your Funk and Wagnalls.

How to pronounce Meeteetse? Check this out.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ignored, Rejected, or Misunderstood

When I have time, I try hard to put this project out there. Magazines that might be interested for an upcoming issue, publishers that could be enticed, agents that might see some potential, and museums or galleries that are looking for something different—they are all legitimate targets when it comes to pitching them a proposal.

As these things go, most of the time I never get a reply about a query or submission—for all I know, no one ever received what I sent in. Which strikes me as odd in this modern day of easy and abundant communications systems at our disposal—a rant for another day.

Yet, every once in awhile, I actually do get a response. Most of the time it’s just a simple form rejection letter. You know, “Thanks for your submission. Your work is very impressive, but after careful thought we decided it’s not quite right for our …whatever.”

Even less frequent, a real person will write back and specifically mention what I’ve sent. These are the next best things to someone saying, “We want it.”

The other day I received one of those cherished replies from an editor at High Country News and even though a real person replied back, it was clear they didn’t really grasp what my Six-Eight-Eleven project is all about in saying, “We haven’t traditionally run stories about team sports in High Country News, because there often isn’t a distinction about what it means for the Western U.S.”

Sometimes when someone distills this body of work down to something as simple as “team sports” or “sports photography,” I just want to hit them like a tackling dummy. But in this case, after I cool down and compose myself, I try to correct their vision with something like the following:

Your response is what I’m used to hearing, but, let me at least correct you that this body of work is as much about life and living in the West as it is about “team sports.” I tell people that the small town high school football project is simply a lens for looking at the lives and culture of these by-passed and overlooked communities. For example, look at how the dwindling populations lead to declining enrollments in today’s rural schools. This leads to football teams moving from a traditional 11-man game to an 8-man or 6-man game (as with many schools in Wyoming and Montana). Some school enrollments are getting so low in Montana that they form co-ops with schools down the road (20-30 miles often) just to have a six-man team! And beyond these games, there is little else that brings these communities together in one event with the exception of a summer rodeo (if they even have one). Typically, once the high school sports teams are gone, the closing of the school isn’t far behind. And then, what remains for such a town to be a community? I suppose this is what I see in the game of football (no matter how many players are fielded) as an important element in a small town’s struggle to be vibrant and thus viable.

Next year, of Wyoming’s five classes of football—the most competitive will be the smallest with 16 teams. Most of the other classes are lucky to have 12. In Montana, six-man and eight-man play have more teams competing than the other three classes of eleven-man (69 vs. 67).

I'll go as far as to say that the growing number of high schools (and their enrollments) in the largest cities of Montana and Wyoming along with the shrinking enrollment in the smaller schools is a barometer that Western living is becoming more urbanized despite the growing trend that we can work from anywhere in today’s “connected” world.

I see Paonia plays in Colorado’s smallest class of 11-man football. I wonder if you’ve attended a game there to have a look around—beyond the gridiron. Better yet, you might want to wander up the road a ways to a town like Collbran where they play eight-man or if you get over the other side of the hill, check out a six-man game in La Veta or Weston. I think you’ll know what I’m talking about... it’s a bit more than just about “team sports.”

And sometimes—rare as it is, they’ll actually reply back to my reply with something like this:

Thank you for giving me a little more context to the story. With that background I can see how it might fit in as an online gallery (I’m full through the end of this year, but it could work next year.) Can you put together an edit that depicts the culture of these small communities in relation to the field and the teams? These two photos from your flickr page (links to my flickr page) tell quite the story, as well as the photo at the link you just sent. Then I’ll take your edit to the editorial meeting to see what the rest of the team thinks. 

Now, if I can just figure out what they mean by “putting together an edit.”

Photo: Meeteetse Longhorn Starters for 2015