Monday, October 30, 2017

Ramblings From Bridger

Zentner to Zentner Touchdown
It was the battle for the South, and even the mascot names provided a battle imagery—the Scouts vs. the Rangers. In this case it was the battle for Montana’s Class C six-man football Southern Conference. Grass Range-Winnett was paying a visit to Bridger to decide who would earn the number one spot heading into the upcoming playoffs. The last time I saw these two teams clash was in 2006 at Grass Range when both were competing in eight-man play. How things quickly change in Montana high school football.

* * *
When the weather is not cooperating or when I simply can’t psyche myself up for a long drive, Bridger is my go-to destination. Oh sure, there are other venues closer such as Meeteetse and Burlington, but for whatever reason I lean toward Bridger. Perhaps it’s the easy terrain of getting there and the lower elevation of 3,600 feet (compared to Meeteetse’s 5,751 feet)—meaning less likely to snow. And, unlike Burlington, they never play Friday afternoon games which is difficult to attend if I have a Friday afternoon class. At 57 years of age, I’m not much for driving at night either, so if I have to, I think returning from a Bridger Friday night game is easier on my aging eyes. 

* * *
It was Bridger’s “Senior Night.” I was surprised to hear over the public address system that four of their senior football players were planning to attend Northwest College—my employer. I even called my division chair during the pregame ceremonies to share this unexpected news. I found out later that senior members of their esteemed volleyball team had a couple players heading for Powell as well.

* * *
I set up camp behind the east end zone, but I wasn’t alone. Two men where studying the field and the players with a little more attention than the casual spectator. As my camera was working on a time-lapse series, I walked over to them and said, “You guys are either reporters or scouts for another team.” When they looked up, they recognized me before I recognized them. It was the Geraldine-Highwood coaching tandem of Rod Tweet and Brandon Gondeiro. No doubt, they were in town to gather some information knowing there was a good chance they’d see one of these two teams in the second round of the playoffs. Later on it dawned on me that the two coaches were scouting the Scouts (of Bridger).

As it turned out, the game wasn’t as competitive as I thought it might be. Bridger shined brightly and made a statement by easily securing the conference’s number one seed to the tune of 49-14 over the Rangers.

* * *
The Scouts weren’t only brighter because of their talent and athleticism, but the new field lights made everything three aperture stops brighter than the old bulbs when I last photographed a game there. I asked a Bridger fan if they were indeed new and was told the lights were installed during the 2016 season. Yet, one more reason to keep Bridger as my default destination.

* * *
Jim Goltz is the principal at Bridger, but in another life, I first knew him as the assistant coach at Custer back in 2003. I managed to catch him running errands in his school golf cart before the big game. During the half, he invited me up to his office to see a print he had made from one of my drone shots last year over the school. And if that wasn’t flattering enough, he has since started flying a drone himself.

* * *
Maybe I’ll buy a little place in Bridger when I retire.

* * *
Staff Sergeant David Thatcher was the last survivor of the “Ruptured Duck” crew during World War II’s Doolittle Raid and was born in Bridger.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Burlington Is Just Right

The Huskies and their extra goal post in Burlington.
Burlington, Wyoming is probably the most centrally located town of the Big Horn Basin. Yet, despite this geographical attribute, it doesn’t get much traffic because the only road that goes through the community is rather secondary unlike the other thoroughfares that pass through communities located on the fringes of the Basin.

Burlington weighs in with 288 residents according to the town limits sign as you enter. This count is in the “Goldilocks” region when it comes to supporting a six-man high school football team. But, there’s a lot of pride in Burlington which has allowed for this town to field an eleven-man team for years. But as mathematics go, even a town/school determined to play eleven-man football has to face the facts of dwindling enrollment numbers. So, last year, Burlington started playing six-man football and from the looks of things, there have been no regrets. According to head coach Trent Aagard, “I think the community is excited about six-man football. I hear a lot of positive response to it. They like the fast paced feel to it, and I think they like that we are playing teams that have similar size to us.

They have a new football field (and track) at Burlington with permanent goal posts still spaced out for an eleven-man game (120 yards including end zones). For the six-man field, they have a portable goal post to designate the south end zone for the shorter-sized field. However, according to Aagard, the reason why the goal posts have not been permanently moved to the six-man field as of yet is, “We felt that we needed to wait and see what the state is going to do with us moving forward. I would imagine if it looks as though we will be in six-man long term, we will move it.”

Then there’s The Burlington Place (formerly the Burlington Bar). Four years ago Mike and Melissa purchased the bar and transformed it from just another watering hole in another tiny Wyoming town to a pub known throughout the Basin for its pizza and wide selection of beers. This might be the first time in a long time that people are driving to Burlington for something other than an athletic event or to visit a relative that lives there.

So, come to Burlington for great six-man football, and stay for the pizza and beer.

Shoshoni: Remakes, Rattlesnakes, and Milkshakes

Like many of Wyoming’s smaller communities throughout the state, the town of Shoshoni has a new school these days. It opened for the 2016-2017 academic year with a complex that includes all grades on the same site (albeit different entrances for K-5 and 6-12).

The old school was built in 1937 located in the center of town included many add-ons. However, the new $38-million-school is out on the edge of the small town of 649.

There’s nothing glamorous about this dirty, little town that popped up in its middle-of-nowhere location around 1905. Perhaps it’s abandoned Main Street with its dilapidated store fronts is what most people remember when they pass through town today. Once famous for its milkshakes at the Yellowstone Drugstore, even that started fizzling out in 2002 upon being relocated where it eventually folded in 2012. 

When we stopped off in Shoshoni during the total solar eclipse this past August, while having a cold one in the Lucky Five Lounge, my friend and I were educated by one of the locals regarding the rattlesnake den that was discovered on site during the construction of the new building. Even after the school was finalized and holding classes, rattlesnakes were turning up a little too frequently.

Although the rattlesnake news was nearly a year old by the time I arrived for the first home game of the season against the Lovell Bulldogs, I was ever-so-careful as I navigated the football field and the adjacent areas of the school.

As far as the game’s outcome with Lovell… it wasn’t close at all. The Lovell Bulldogs came into town and schooled the Wranglers on what it’s like to play a 2A team (Shoshoni plays at the 1A level). For years now, I have been anticipating Shoshoni joining the six-man ranks as it is the quintessential six-man football town in my mind, but somehow their enrollments continue to remain high enough to compete at Wyoming’s smallest class of eleven-man football.

On another football note as it relates to Shoshoni: Years ago I was told by a colleague that the Left Tackle Bar on the east end of town as you head toward Casper was started by a former NFL football player (who played left tackle), but even in the age of Google, I’ve never been able to verify that account.