The phone rang one night at work, and to my surprise it was my grandmother, Mary D’Arcy, on the other end.
She was in the middle of a debate with my grandpa Jerry, and she needed my help.
My grandma was very rarely wrong. My grandpa was never wrong. Ever.
The subject of their debate was the late Lt. Eso Naranche, who, like my grandma, was a member of the Butte High Class of 1938.
“He was a nice boy,” my grandma told me of Naranche, whose name is at least known by nearly every person who ever lived in Butte. “He wasn’t an ass like some of the other ones.”
That right there quantifies as the highest praise possible from my grandma, who died two months shy of her 98th birthday in August of 2018.
Since she was a senior when the current Butte High School opened in January of 1938, my grandma knew her classmate did not play in the stadium next to the school.
Since my grandpa clearly remembered watching the great Eso Naranche score touchdowns at the stadium, he knew that his wife’s classmate most certainly did play there.
A phone call to Pat Kearney, the ultimate Butte sports historian, ended up proving that both my grandparents were technically correct.
Naranche never played as a member of the Butte High team at the stadium that is named in his honor. He did, however, play for the Montana State University Grizzlies against the Montana State College Bobcats at what was then called Butte High School Stadium.
In their 72 years together, that was perhaps the only time that my grandparents both came away perceived winners of an argument.
My grandpa, who died at 93 in 2011, most certainly was at Butte High School Stadium on Oct. 25, 1941 when Eso Naranche ran for a pair of second half touchdowns as the Grizzlies overcame a 13-0 deficit to beat the Bobcats 23-13.
Watching Eso Naranche was not something you would ever forget.
If it was not for World War II, Naranche might have gone on to a career in the National Football League.
Naranche started on the 1935 and 1937 state championship Butte High football teams. He starred for the Grizzlies, becoming he fifth player in school history to play in the East-West Shrine Game.
At the all-star game, which was moved from San Francisco to New Orleans because of wartime concerns, Naranche started at fullback and linebacker. He intercepted a pass.
Naranche was an All-Pacific Coast selection as a kicker and halfback in 1941. He entered the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. He was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame four years earlier.
Butte High School Stadium was renamed Naranche Memorial Stadium on Oct. 15, 1943, a few months after Naranche, at 24, was killed in North Africa while fighting for Gen. George S. Patton’s 1st Infantry Division.
With Naranche’s mother, Martha Salovich, among the large crowd, the following proclamation was read:
“Tonight we honor a hero, one of our own. He came to Butte High School from the Grant Grade School, a big, kind, lovable boy. He played three years on Butte High School football teams. He was chosen on All-State teams twice. He was a gentleman. He was the same grand athlete, the same fine student at Montana State University. He was so outstanding in football that he gained national recognition for himself and Montana by being chosen to play on the All-Star West team in the Shrine charity game at New Orleans on Jan. 1, 1942.”
“Then he became a soldier and officer in our armed forces. Later in North Africa, thousands of miles from home, he died for his country. Tonight in his memory and in the honor of the more than 1,200 Butte High boys in the armed services we dedicate this field, and name it Naranche Memorial Stadium in honor of Eso Naranche, a Butte High boy, a man, a soldier and a hero.”
Mike Mansfield, who went on to become the U.S. Senate majority leader, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives then.
While speaking in the House, Mansfield referred to Naranche as a “a former student and friend of mine at Montana State University … a real American boy.”
Mansfield praised Naranche for his generosity, kindness and understanding.
“Eso,” Mansfield said, according to The Helena Independent-Record, “came up the hard way. He worked in the Butte mines to finance his education and everything he received he earned himself. While Butte claims him as her son, Montanan honors him also. We are proud of Eso; we are sad that he’s no longer with us, and we salute him for his courage, his sacrifice and his fine Americanism.”
There could not have been a better honor bestowed upon any Butte boy than giving his name to the grand new stadium.
Over the years, the stadium name somehow dropped the world “Memorial,” and through the fall of 1973 there was no place that epitomized the grit of the Mining City more than Naranche Stadium.
The field playing surface was dirt. You had to be tough to play there, and opponents came to town nervous and sometimes even flat out afraid.
Championship teams from Butte High and Butte Central called Naranche Stadium home.
In the second year after moving back into the rebuilt Naranche Stadium after a 37-year absence, the 2012 Bulldogs captured the championship in memorable fashion. Shortly after the game, a fog suddenly engulfed the stadium, as if the ghosts of Naranche, perhaps even Naranche himself, gave their nod of approval.
Many more teams certainly have honored the Butte hero with their performances in the stadium that bears his name.
Without question, one of those teams was the 2019 Butte High Bulldogs.
The latest version of team that was known as the “Purples” until the 1940s certainly put on a show at Naranche, turning eight Friday nights into something magical.
The 2019 Bulldogs scored 538 points, more than any other Butte High team. They did so with a bunch of players who clearly would earn not-an-ass status by my grandmother.
On Friday night, though, Bozeman outplayed the Bulldogs.
Asher Croy, who will go on to join Naranche’s Grizzlies, ran for 333 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries behind a powerful offensive line to lead the Hawks to victory.
An estimated crowd of 10,000 people packed the storied stadium that is only built to seat about 4,500 to see that it took a superhuman game by a future NFL player to beat their Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs were clearly heartbroken after the game. They will be for a long, long time.
Losing the state championship game, however, comes with no shame. The Bulldogs played their hearts out until the final seconds, certainly making their fans proud.
They did not hoist the championship trophy, but the 2019 Bulldogs will go down as one of the very best teams to ever step foot on that hallowed Mining City ground.
Without question, the 2019 Bulldogs lived up to the honor of playing in the stadium named after our beloved war hero.
Like it was with the great Lt. Eso Naranche before them, watching the 2019 Bulldogs play is something no one will never forget.
— Bill Foley, who never achieved not-an-ass status with his grandma, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks every Thursday.