As schools shrink, Friday night lights rivals join forces
High school football season is about to begin in Montana.
Here’s a great story about rivals becoming teammates at two Montana Schools by the Missoulian’s AJ Mazzolini:
DRUMMOND – The veteran coach paced the sidelines of the 80-yard pitch tucked between a four-lane highway and a hillside with modest inset bleachers. While his eyes followed the play, his feet followed his Trojans’ march toward the goal line yard by yard.
For each stride Jim Oberweiser took, 35 football players mirrored it behind him along Drummond High School’s turf, still thawing in the late-morning sun. The huddled mass of shoulder pads and helmets flanked the 22-year coach, an impressive and intimidating show of unison from a school and a town on the verge of its first state football championship.
Mere moments separated Drummond from a Class C 8-man title, an eventual 48-8 drubbing of Big Sandy on this mid-November day in 2003.
“I’ve spoke with some folks who say, ‘I just couldn’t believe that when I went to this really small town to watch this football game that you had football kids lined up from, gosh, 20-yard line to 20-yard line,’ ” Oberweiser recounted.
That victory, the 11th in a streak that reached 45 straight and spanned three state championships, marked the beginning of an 8-man football dynasty in the town of just more than 300 people 50 miles east of Missoula.
But barely a decade later – those players long ago graduated – far fewer Trojan uniforms stood guard over the sidelines. A once burgeoning roster had shrunk to 18 boys, hardly enough for a full practice. With an estimated dip to as low as 13 bodies for the 2014 season, the Trojans made a choice nearly unthinkable 10 years prior.
Last November, following a 6-3 campaign, the Drummond School District filed the paperwork with the Montana High School Association to create a partnership with its chief geographic rival – the nearby Granite High Prospectors of Philipsburg.
With an MHSA stamp of approval, the Flint Creek Titans were born, a team separated by 27 miles and decades of rival history.
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Though Montana’s population has swelled above the 1 million mark in recent years, rural residents in the Treasure State occupy a smaller percentage of the population than they once did. U.S. Census data shows what was once a 56-44 population percentage split in favor of smaller, rural communities has flipped the other direction in the last 50 years.
As school enrollments continue to diminish in these areas, sporting opportunities grow scarcer, MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman said.
More and more schools are falling into the MHSA’s smallest classification, that of Class C. Home to institutions with 119 students or fewer, the number of Class C schools has increased 10 percent to 106 just since autumn of 2006.
That’s 106 out of 179 total MHSA member schools.
By consequence, the number of co-ops has climbed as well as smaller schools pool their resources to field athletic teams. Beckman counted 172 co-ops across all sports – 29 of which are football, by far the most and nearly doubling that of girls’ basketball (16). The total number of co-ops is up from 144 when he counted five or six years ago.
“That’s concerning for the schools, but I think it’s also a good thing because these students at schools with a dwindling enrollment still have the opportunity to participate in these sports and still stay in their local school,” Beckman said. “And when you have to put 11, eight or six out (for football), it’s even more difficult.”
The combined enrollment of schools forming an 8-man football co-op cannot exceed the upper boundary of a regular Class C institution (119 students) by more than 10 percent. For this fall, Drummond and Philipsburg predict 131 combined students – exactly the cutoff point for a co-op – though that number is expected to shrink to 121 for the 2015-16 school year.
Enrollment drops have granted no immunities in athletic reorganization in Montana, though the western-most region of the state is only feeling the squeeze more recently. While Big Sky Country has supported 6-man football since 1982, the high-action open-field discipline didn’t reach the area until 2010 when enough schools dipped low enough to warrant the game.
“The West (half of Montana) is behind the times as far as this movement,” said Mike Cutler, Philipsburg School District superintendent and former Granite head football coach. “The Hi-Line has just been decimated.”
The Philipsburg native previously taught and coached 8-man at Denton in north-central Montana. Denton now co-ops with Stanford and Geyser for football.
Cutler, along with Philipsburg’s Wally Stanghill, will continue coaching with head man Oberweiser and Drummond’s JC Holland for Flint Creek. He deferred to Oberweiser’s experience for the head spot, though.
“Jim’s been coaching for 1,050 years,” Cutler said with a chuckle.
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Drummond has nabbed the headlines and trophies in recent years with five state firsts since ’03, but Philipsburg has the deeper history when it comes to football.
High atop Philipsburg Elementary, “1896” is carved into the gray stone monument that is the original Granite High School to represent the school’s opening. Not long after, though the exact year varies depending who you talk to around Philipsburg, the Prospectors fielded their first football team.
There were lean years and there were squads that folks in town still discuss in earnest, said Sam Brown, 67, who played football at the school through his junior season in 1963. That last campaign in a Pros uniform for Brown falls under the latter.
“We went undefeated, scored hundreds and hundreds of points to our opponents’ very few,” Brown recalled, a spot of pride still present in his voice.
The game has changed dramatically since those days, noted Ron Paige, 78, a Granite grad from 1954. Football itself has always been important to the small town, though.
“Football was such a big part of our lives even then,” Paige said, dusting off memories buried beneath decades of living. “We didn’t have leather helmets – I’m not that old – but just one little plastic bar around the teeth.
“And unfortunately (with the nearby mines), the field was made out of manganese tailings,” Paige continued. “You didn’t want to get tackled because you had about a 50-50 chance of getting blood poisoning.”
It wasn’t until 1979, though, that the Pros made their first and only state title game appearance. A 56-25 defeat to Richey gave Philipsburg its best state finish.
A half-hour down Montana Highway 1, Drummond’s program was born a decade earlier in 1969. That year, to help fill out an inaugural roster and stir up more interest in the sport, Drummond opened the field to eighth graders from its middle school.
Mike Bradshaw, a 1973 graduate of the school who recently retired as Drummond head girls’ basketball coach after 36 seasons, joined the team for his first of five years in a Trojans uniform.
“We didn’t have the program developed like they had recently and those first few years we took our lumps,” Bradshaw laughed about it now. “We practiced on an old hay field down here, played our games up at the (current) field. But it was all dirt at that time.”
* * * * *
It didn’t take long for the one-sided affairs between the two schools to begin creeping toward equilibrium. By the time Coach Oberweiser took the whistle in the early ’80s, the rivalry was well-established.
“You always want to circle one or two games on the calendar and you always want to be building to those goals,” Oberweiser said. “And one of those goals that we always had was to make the playoffs, first and foremost.
“The second would be to defeat Granite.”
Little changed by the time Coach Cutler, then a running back, came through the halls of Granite High, though he was coy with the details.
“I got into some trouble with Drummond kids, to put it that way,” Cutler said with a sly smile. The 1988 grad also set a still-standing state record with 10 touchdowns in a game to beat Drummond in 1987 before going on to play at the University of Montana-Western.
The rivalry cooled by the late ’90s as Drummond found its stride and Philipsburg began to lose footing. As the Trojans’ trophy collection ballooned, the games against P-burg started to mean less and less to the players.
“I feel like when I got into high school (in 2002), when I was a freshman, it was still there,” said Chase Reynolds, Drummond’s record-setting running back and a future Montana Griz standout and NFL pro. “We became so dominant – not being cocky or anything – but it’s almost like it wasn’t a rivalry anymore.”
Which is too bad, the 2006 graduate lamented.
“Any time you have a rivalry, it’s a game that you can get fired up over,” he said. “I look back to when I played for the Griz; playing the Bobcats, you look forward to that game. It’s a special game with fans and people getting together.
“It’s more than a football game and that’s the same way in high school. It’s good for the soul, I think.”
The Trojans have made the state playoffs in all but one season dating back to 1998. The year before marked the Prospectors’ last trip to the postseason.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘Philipsburg doesn’t have the tradition of football,’ ” said Granite County Sheriff Scott Dunkerson, a 1989 Granite grad and current Drummond resident. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up a few years. It’s been going for such a long time and that’s the sad part of it, to see that disappear.”
What’s your best bison story?
Yellowstone National Park is, of course, a place where many buffalo roam. So before we debut our Sept/Oct issue that includes several stories from the park, we asked our friends on Facebook to tell us their best Yellowstone bison story. Here’s what a couple had to say:
Teri Garrison: I was roaming the boardwalk near Old Faithful when this beautiful creature wandered up and past. I stood mesmerized as it ambled just feet away from me.
Shanna Mae Swanson: One fall I had planned a camping trip in Yellowstone with a few photographer friends of mine. I left super early to get into the park during sunrise and had made it to the Midway Geyser Basin area just after sunrise. Before I arrived at the parking area, I had noticed a herd of buffalo in the geyser area and thought it would be pretty cool to stop and photograph them. Once I was in the parking area, I set all of my photo gear on the hood of my car to get everything organized. All of the sudden a buffalo came through the trees right in front of my car, and then another and another. The herd of buffalo were stampeding into the parking lot. When I saw the first buffalo I ran to the back of my car (because I had locked my car) and laid up against the trunk to stay out of the way, leaving all of my camera gear on the hood of my car. Here I was in the middle of a herd of bison without a camera and a hundred tourists on the other side of the parking lot taking photos of the bison and of me lying on my car. It was definitely a crazy moment and an experience I will never forget.
To share your answer and pictures, or read more of what our friends had to say, find us on Facebook. We’ll also have some stories in the Sept/Oct issue – out soon.
You can also email stories and photos to email@example.com.
Also, look out for more Fan Feedback questions at fb.com/montanamagazine.
Harvest time: Montana wheat harvest late but protein rich
Ashley Green and daughter Sommer rounded the corner in their John Deere combine and rolled to the semi awaiting their load. The mother swung the boom of the unloader over the truck trailer and let the grain spill.
The boys were right behind. Dallas Green, son Rory, and nephew Kyler Venable moved as fast as threshing speed would allow. It was a good day to be custom cutting winter wheat in Rosebud County. There were combines trundling through grain in just about every field east of Pompeys Pillar. The Greens, from Whitewater, were seeing some better-than-average wheat.
“The protein is about 14 percent and we’re averaging about 50 bushels an acre, which is good for this area,” Dallas Green said.
Wheat farmers pump a year’s worth of sweat into the slot machine hoping for a late summer payout. This year, decent rain across most of the state and light hail damage has made the harvest less of a gamble.
“So far, it’s looking very good,” said Cassidy Marn, Montana Wheat and Barley Committee marketing director. “We’ve had reports from the state grain lab, early reports, very early, about 15 percent in with samples over 13 percent protein and test weights over 63 pounds per bushel.”
Protein is what makes Montana wheat valuable to foreign buyers looking to blend it with ordinary wheat to create flour good for making pasta. Montana farmers normally receive a premium payment for high protein levels, which aren’t usually found in wheat from other parts of the country. Ordinary winter wheat has a protein level of no more than 10 percent. A 13 percent protein level is on the higher end.
Test weights are a good indicator of flour extraction for wheat, with 60 pounds per bushel being the highest grade. Early test weights suggest Montana has a high-quality wheat crop, which it might need to clear the $1 billion value mark for the sixth time in seven years.
There is a lot of wheat on the global market, which is driving prices down. There’s also a lot of protein in U.S. wheat because in regions like the Southern Plains, drought stress drove up wheat protein levels. That means high-protein Montana wheat has unwanted competition and that protein premiums might be lower or nonexistent. It’s the second year in a row that states not known for high-protein grain are crowding Montana’s niche market.
Gulf State wheat protein levels in some cases are above 12.5, Marn said, which isn’t good news for Montana payouts. Roughly 85 percent of the Texas crop has protein levels above 12.5 percent.
There is still a lot of Montana wheat yet to be harvested. Through last week, roughly 65 percent of Montana winter wheat was cut, but just 6 percent of the state’s spring wheat has been harvested, according to the Montana Agricultural Statistics Service. Cool, wet spring weather delayed winter and spring harvests by several weeks.
There were exceptions, like farmer Phil Steinberger, who cut his grain July 13, weeks ahead of his Forsyth neighbors, though his protein levels were closer to 9 percent.
In the extreme northeast corner of Montana, farmer Gordon Stoner said spring wheat and durum crops in his area were still too green to cut and may not be ready until September. Rain in nearby Plentywood is 4.5 inches above average for the year and the summer temperatures have been mild.
“Durum and spring wheat, there hasn’t been any harvested, but the crops look very good,” Stoner said as he harvested peas Wednesday.
Not everyone benefited from a wet 2014 growing season. Dallas Green said it was great to be cutting such abundant wheat near Forsyth after suffering drought conditions in Whitewater, where drought fissures were opening in the parched ground.
“You could lose a 32-inch crescent down those cracks,” Green said.
Throwback Thursday: Unlocking the history of Butte’s long forgotten underground speakeasy
Here’s a fun through back Thursday for you: One the most popular stories of 2014 (so far) the mysterious and wonderful tale of the long forgotten Rookwood Speakeasy uncovered underground in Uptown Butte.
Butte wasn’t necessarily a place that was pro-prohibition. For instance:
“It is estimated,” The Butte Miner reported, “that 150 gallons of whiskey, 1,500 bottles of beer and 30 gallons of wine were destroyed by the hue and cry.”
“The agents, taking advantage of the evening rush hour of thirst quenchers, had little difficulty in entering any of the places,” The Anaconda Standard added. Arrested at the Rookwood was infamous bootlegger and moonshiner Curly McFarland.
The full story is up now.
Learning more: A day in the life of a Glacier mountain goat
What’s a typical day like for a mountain goat living inside Glacier National Park?
A problem has presented itself in Glacier National Park recently because, surprisingly enough, researchers don’t know the answer to that question.
One of the most visible and iconic creatures of Glacier National Park – one that nearly everyone who makes it to the top of Going-to-the-Sun Road sees – is under even more observation these days as researchers try to learn more about the animals.
We told readers about a new study inside Glacier that’s aiming to learn more about goats, and how the increasingly high human presence there is affecting them.
The National Park Service – charged with balancing the delicate interplay between the visitor experience and protecting park resources – launched a Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor study to gather data to design a management plan. In addition to evaluating how to make the shuttle system financially viable, the plan aims to address congestion on the road and trails with an eye to the future. It’s a journey to answer the question of how to manage higher visitation, respond to future impacts and better protect resources.
To get tabs on the human footprint, the study is collecting data on levels of use and time of use on trails, roads and in parking lots.
But one of the big concerns is the increased pressure on wildlife, specifically with the interaction between humans and mountain goats in the Logan Pass area.
If you’ve been to the park this year, you might’ve been stopped by researchers hoping to survey visitors and learn more abou their interactions with wildlife. Researchers are also collaring goats and doing smaller experiments, such as putting predator scat around heavily traveled goat trails to see how the animals react.
It’s a fascinating story about Glacier’s alpine icons and the ENTIRE STORY is online now.
Slideshow: Celebrating Big Sky Country’s summer skies
Once again, our readers and Facebook friends have shared an amazing bunch of photos with us. And what better time than the first week of August to share a few that celebrate the summer skies of Montana?
Here’s a compilation of big sky shots from around the state.
Thanks to Yvonne Moe Resch, Sherry Meyers, John D. Harwood, Natatum Haines, Robin K. Ha’o and Earle Take Photography for the wonderful images.
Find us on Facebook for more.
Take a jaunt down Billings’ Sugar Ave.
There’s a street in Billings called Sugar Avenue, and it ‘s a very appropriately named street. That’s because every winter, more than 1.5 million pounds of sugar is produced at the Western Sugar Cooperative plant.
Contributor Jennifer McKee took us into the refinery in our July/August issue, taking readers through the process of making sugar from Montana-grown sugar beets. It’s quite a process.
The sugar ends up in products across the world, helping to sweeten things you’ve almost definitely eaten (like Wilcoxson’s ice cream or Wheat Montana bread).
But how do you make sugar from a beet? Here’s a quick breakdown of the process:
From seed to sugar
Seed: From mid-April to May, planting season begins for beet farmers on 150 Montana farms from Bridger to Custer
Root: From May through September the seeds begin to grow on the 24,000 acres of Montana farmland into what will become white, two-to five- pound, foot-long sugar beets. Beets contain up to 22 percent sucrose
Sugar beet: In September, harvesting season begins and roughly 1.5 billion of pounds of sugar beets are shipped to “beet dumps” around the state. Beets are then delivered by truck to the Billings refinery
Refining: From September through mid-February, once at the Western Sugar Cooperative refinery, beets are taken through a three hour process to make sugar. The refinery runs nonstop producing sugar
Sugar water: Inside the refinery every day beets are washed in river water, sliced with precision, dropped into a diffuser where steam coaxes out sugar. The resulting sugar water is then pumped into pans that induce crystallization
Crystals: As sugar crystals form, they’re sent through a centrifuge that blasts the last of the water from the sugar
Sugar: The sugar is spun dry and packaged. Every day of operation, the Billings refinery produces 1.5 million pounds of sugar. Sugar is shipped from the refinery to facilities across the world, including to Hershey, Penn.
Survey says Montana home to 2 top national parks
You probably saw this online poll making the social media rounds in the past couple weeks, asking people to vote for the nation’s best national park.
Easy choice right?!? Well there are two easy choices for most Montanans…
I think we can all agree it should’ve been a tie for first, with Glacier and Yellowstone at the top. But it was Maine’s Acadia National Park that took the No. 1 spot.
Still, pretty good showing for MT. And in case this makes you want to go and see the parks, we have a great suggestion on the best way to take in the scenery.
Writer Ednor Therriault wrote a great feature in our July/August issue about the iconic red and yellow buses the operate inside Glacier and Yellowstone. It really is a fun story. And even if you’ve seen the parks, Ednor says you’re missing out if you haven’t seen them in a bus.