Caught up in the excitement

I didn’t go to school to be a sports writer. The only journalism class I ever took was in the eighth grade at East Junior High, when I may have written a grand total of two stories for The Bullpup.

Sure, you can probably tell I’m not a classically trained sports journalist, but I’ve learned a lot in almost 20 years of doing this job. I’ve had some great mentors and coworkers through the years who helped me through the ins and outs of the business. Warren Rogers, Roy Pace and Bruce Sayler are just a few of those who helped me to improve my craft.

There are lots of rules concerning spelling, grammar and Associated Press style, but some of the best lessons  learned had to do with unwritten rules of the business: Don’t cheer from the press table or sideline; Don’t wear your Montana Tech hat when you’re covering a Montana Tech game; Don’t ask players for autographs, especially at the professional level.

I’ve found myself in violation of a few of these rules lately.

While I wasn’t wearing my Butte High hat on the sidelines of last Saturday’s thrilling semifinal game between the Bulldogs and Great Falls Russell, I did catch myself jumping up and down and pumping my fist after the Butte High defense held fast on the goal line on the last play of the game to preserve a 37-36 win.

Of course I didn’t jump anywhere near as high as Butte School District business manager J.R. Richardson, who may want to consider a new career in track or basketball.

I broke another rule Monday night at the Bulldogs’ team meeting in the Butte High auditorium. I brought my four kids and a helmet we found, and asked the team to autograph it for them.

A few weeks back, my oldest son and I were on the sidelines of a Bulldog game when he pulled on my sleeve and asked me for a piece of paper.

“Sure,” I said. “What do you need paper for?”

“Dad, I want to get some autographs,” he replied.

I told him that the middle of a game on the sidelines was the wrong place to seek autographs, but I was very happy with his request. It means a lot to me that my son looks up to the Bulldogs. They’re a quality group of young men, and the traits they’re displaying – class, hard work, perseverance, just to name a few – are some of the same I’d like to see developed in my own children.

Earlier this fall, I came across an old, discarded shell of a helmet. We cleaned up with a scouring pad, and we were given a couple of “B” decals by Butte head coach Arie Grey. The kids and I decided that the helmet would be a great place to have some autographs, and the players were happy to oblige.

My only problem afterward was trying to referee the wrestling match between the kids to determine which would get to carry the new prize out of the school.

There’s been a big outpouring of support from the community, which hasn’t seen the Bulldogs play for the Class AA title in more than two decades. The level of excitement is fun to watch, and join in as well, to the degree that journalistic principles allow, at least.

There’s been a call for a “Purple Out,” or a “Purple Haze,” as it’s been called at Friday’s championship game against Bozeman at Naranche Stadium. Folks have been asked to wear as much purple as possible in support of the home team.

Another push under way involves a request for those who still have their old letterman’s jackets, to wear them to the game. I won’t be wearing mine on the sidelines, partly out of respect for my job, and partly because I’m about 100 pounds heavier now than when I got the jacket as a Christmas present in 1984. No one wants to see that mess.

I would, however, let the Missus wear it to the game, if she decides to go. She’s not a big football fan, but who knows, she might get caught up in the excitement. We’ll see.

Naranche Stadium has been a great place for the Bulldogs since the completion of renovation early last season. Butte High has a 10-1 record at the field in that time, and has enjoyed a marked home-field advantage.

But it’s not just the setting, and it’s not just the crowd. Butte High itself has shown the willingness to do what is necessary to bring off well staged games at the showcase stadium.

When Mother Nature blessed the area with abundant snow last week, the school was faced with the daunting task of removing all the accumulation. All day Thursday and all day Friday, Butte’s school district engineering staff (Disclaimer: I work part time for the Butte School District as a substitute engineer) led the attack on the snow and ice.

The engineers were joined by workers from Butte-Silver Bow, residents at CCCS, Hunter Brothers Contracting and a number of volunteers who stepped up to the daunting task. The stadium was ready Friday afternoon, though the Rustlers needed to postpone the game until Saturday due to unsafe driving conditions on the northern stretches of I-15.

So, after the snow continued through Friday night, the crews went back to work. Lights were turned on at the stadium at 4 a.m. on Saturday to begin the process again. Dozens of people worked until the crowds were let into the field at 11:30 a.m. Tons of snow had been moved, and the game went on.

“Butte came together like nowhere else to make this happen,” Richardson said, as he chipped away at ice on the field.

Butte coaches Jim and Gina Konen brought their shovels and went to work clearing bleacher seats. Fans showed up early and picked up brooms and shovels to make way for the crowds. Engineers put in double shifts as chief stadium engineer Ned Ellingwood coordinated the effort.

Weather forecasts for Friday night’s game don’t look as dire as they did last weekend, but it seems certain the field will be as ready as can be for the final game of the Class AA season.

See you there. Don’t forget your purple.