Six-Eight-Eleven is a photo-essay project about small town high school football focusing on the small town football games and programs in the bypassed communities of Wyoming and Montana (mostly). Despite the decadence of American Football at the professional, college, and some high school levels, this body of work illustrates that there are still places in this country where football’s innocence is preserved and celebrated in a grass roots setting. This project commenced in 1997.
Driving north on I-15 out of Great Falls to attend the Class C Six-Man semifinal game between Valier and Westby-Grenora (MonDak), I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself, “Geeze, I hope I got it right. That this is indeed where the game is going to be and this is the day it will be played on.”
This stretch of highway is somewhat of a geographical limbo. It feels a little alien—probably because it’s in close proximity to Canada. There’s a lot of yellow and white—the yellow of wheat field stubble and the white of snow. I always tell my graphic design students that if you want your graphic design to fail, use yellow and white because there’s really not much contrast between the two colors, and whatever message you try to convey, it’ll likely be lost. But oddly, it works up here in Montana’s hinterlands.
One of my goals for attending the game in Valier was to get an aerial (drone-based) shot of the football field and surrounding town. I arrived about 15 minutes before the kickoff, but—like no other time—the software for my drone insisted that I logon to my account before it could take off. However, because logging on requires some kind of internet connection, I was unable to successfully logon because I had only one bar of cell phone service. Needless to say, I was cursing madly about DJI (the drone manufacturer). Luckily, I also happened to have one of my toy-based drones along, so in desperation, I flew my lowly Syma drone (see image below). Although a reliable flyer it is equipped with a primitive system compared to the other. I didn’t have any kind of “FPV” (first-person view) on board for accurate positioning. So I could only spot the aircraft based on my observation from below and hope that one of the shutter clicks every five seconds recorded a worthy image. By the time I completed this “simple” task, the MonDak Thunder had already established a three-touchdown advantage. Lesson learned: like cameras, always have a backup drone too.
Although the battle of undefeated teams was a bust in terms of being a competitive game, I’m still glad I made the long drive (391 miles one way—my longest drive of the season) as I’ve never attended a game in Valier. Because the game was easily over by the half, with plenty of light still remaining in the day, I did something I rarely do—I left the game after halftime to answer the call from the cold and abandoned football fields in nearby Brady and Dutton. I had driven by them on my way to Valier and thought I should get some imagery from these two remote locations (for me) while I was in the neighborhood.
The school and football field at Brady are now abandoned, but on this particular sunny Saturday afternoon, the town seemed vibrant. The Brady Bulldogs once played six-man football on the field there. In the earliest years of six-man football play in Montana, Brady made its first appearance in the 1984 chipper but fell short to another Bulldog team—Moore. Then in 1996 and 1997 they appeared again in the title games, but never recorded a “W” as they lost to the Choteau County-juggernauts of Highwood (21-19) and Geraldine (56-26) respectively. As enrollments dwindled, the team and school were joined with nearby Dutton. And not long after that, Brady-Dutton co-oped with nearby Power to create an eight-man team—the Titans. Even after the unification, enrollments continued to drop in both schools, and now the co-op of Power-Dutton-Brady is at the end of its rope as a six-man team that commenced this season (2017).
Over Dutton Gridiron
Down the road from Brady, the football field and school in Dutton are still occupied. In the case of the gridiron, it appears to see at least two home games per year sharing the home schedule with Power. However, there are no lights in Dutton, so the Titan home games played there are on Saturday afternoons. As the shadows grew longer with the sun’s approach to the horizon (like Brady), Dutton seemed vibrant and glorious in this last light of the day.
And this… Just before leaving the game at the half, the announcer reported the score of other six-man semifinal between Bridger and White Sulphur Springs—a lopsided score in favor of Bridger. However, when I stopped for gas on the way out of town, one of the clerks at the convenience store indicated that the lopsided score was in favor of White Sulphur Springs. It was only much later in the day that I found out that it was indeed Bridger that notched the win.
And then I started getting a little excited, because I knew they’d be hosting the title game and Bridger is only a 45-minute drive from my home. Even with Daylight Savings Time vanquished, I should still get home before dark—a first for me on a title-game-day.
Football Footnote: What is it about the mascot “Titans” and football co-ops in Montana? Tri-Cities (Hobson, Moore and Judith Gap), Power-Dutton-Brady, and most recently Flint Creek (Drummond/Phillipsburg)… all Titans.
I know a majority of the populace out there see me as the guy who photographs six-man football, but as the title of this blog states, “Six-Eight-Eleven,” I have also been known to attend, photograph, and write about eight-man and eleven-man venues as well. When it comes to eleven-man, I typically gravitate to the smallest classes. In Montana, it’s mostly Class B games (and a couple of Class A game years ago), while covering 1A and 2A in Wyoming.
With that said, although I’ve never been to Forsyth for a game, the Dogies have never played in too large of a class for me to cover a game there. However, given their arrival to the eight-man level (down from eleven-man play this year), it seemed timely that I visit for one of their games this season.
And so, there I was for their first round playoff game against Choteau—another team, like Forsyth, from Class B that moved down to eight-man this year. As it turns out, Forsyth is the ideal distance for me to travel; just under one full tank of gas to get there in my not-so-fuel-efficient 1990 Ford F-150 (despite its 300-straight-six engine).
Because it was the last weekend in October, the weather was absolutely devine in Forsyth. I don’t know if it hit the 70° mark, but it was sunny and certainly in the 60s. So warm was it that some of the players were experiencing muscle cramps like those during the first games of the year when the weather is outright hot. However, the Forsyth team didn’t seem as prone to this condition. I spied a couple of the Dogie players drinking pickle juice. I had to ask. Apparently pickle juice is a good remedy in the prevention of muscle cramps. What would the marketing teams at Gatorade or Powerade make of this grassroots electrolyte insurrection?
When it came to the actual contest between Forsyth and Choteau, the Dogies assembled a strong argument for a title game appearance. I suspect they’ll advance to the semifinals and the championship game, but no one team is a sure bet this year. Choteau kept it close for almost two quarters, but late in the second quarter when it was 22-8 and the Bulldogs were threatening to make it 22-14, Forsyth picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown (“pick-six”), making it 30-8 at the half instead. The Bulldogs never recovered.
With all the Forsyth scoring going on, it’s band played several rounds of the Dogie fight song. And, like many high schools that “acquire” their fight song from some famous college, Forsyth’s fight song is Michigan’s “Hail to the Victors.” Had I closed my eyes, I could almost project myself into an Ohio State game where Michigan was kicking their ass. As a kid who grew up following the Buckeyes, it was a bit disconcerting in hearing that particular fight song over and over.
Now that Wibaux has moved down to six-man, one has to wonder if Forsyth is the new incarnation of “The Beast from the East,” or will Fairview have something to say about that.