Sportswriters must fight for the sports they write

Sportswriters must fight for the sports they write

Historically speaking, Butte has never been a soccer town.

Nobody will dispute that.

For whatever reason, a bunch of rug rats kicking the ball around in the YMCA league has never translated into big numbers — or wins — at the high school level.

We have seen some really good players compete for the Butte High soccer teams, and we have seen some pretty good teams. However, we have never really come close to consistently contending, let alone winning a state title.

In recent years, the numbers for the Butte High soccer team became so dangerously low that the Bulldogs almost did not have enough players to field a boys’ team. Then, when two head coaching jobs opened up, the school initially only had one person apply for a job.

Things were dire enough that the question was raised about eliminating the Butte High soccer program altogether. That was never really that close to being a reality, but it was close enough to be more than a whisper.

Now, I have never been a soccer guy. Other than one season as a kindergartner, I have never really played the sport. I never watch it on television.

As someone who makes his living writing about high school sports, though, I was getting ready to fight like crazy to keep the program if the school district actually tried to eliminate the sport from Butte High.

If it went away, I would have made sure that it went out kicking and screaming, writing column after column to try to persuade everyone to do what it takes to make it stay.

For one thing, I remember some of my classmates at Butte High fighting hard to get the program started, even though the Bulldogs never played a soccer game until the school year after we graduated.

I also understand the importance of having as many extracurricular activities for students as possible, be it soccer, golf, drama, speech or, dare I say, football.

Such activities help make good students develop into better people.

Also, I want to continue to have a paycheck, and covering soccer is part of that.

That is what I thought about when I read a recent column by Jeff Welsch on

As Class A football statistician and historian Brian Reed pointed out when raking Welsch through the coals on Facebook and Twitter, Welsch offered an Ivan Drago response to his proposed possibility of high school football going away forever.

“If it dies, it dies.”

“Times Change. We evolve,” Welsch wrote of the thought of football kicking the bucket. “We’ve gotten along just fine without Blockbuster (Video), rotary phones and buggy whips, haven’t we?”

Here is the problem with that argument. We get along without the horse and buggy because the automobile came along to offer a better mode of transportation. We get along just fine without Blockbuster and the rotary phone because technology improved so much.

We did not suddenly stop watching movies, talking on the phone or traveling. We did not really get rid of those things. We improved them.

Likewise, football keeps improving. In case you have not noticed, those high school football teams are not running the veer and the Wing-T out there.

Well, most of them are not running those offenses, anyway, as football evolved to become more fun to watch and to play.

Football has advancements in other ways over the years, too.

The helmet used to be leather. Now, helmets are developed with the latest advances in technology.

That is kind of like trading in your horse and buggy for your Chevrolet Tahoe with OnStar.

While helmets can never be good enough to completely protect players from concussions, our football teams have become smarter in how they practice. Gone are the days of live contact all week long leading up to the game.

Teams also have trainers and doctors on the sideline, and they are well versed on how to deal with head injuries.

As a result, football is safer now that it has ever been.

It will never be as safe as we would like, but no sport is. This year in Little League Baseball, I saw multiple concussions and one broken nasal septum.

By far the worst sports injury I ever witnessed firsthand was a fractured skull by a basketball player. Last year I saw a volleyball player end her season by bouncing her head off the floor. I’ve seen cyclists flip over their handlebars.

However, nowhere has it been suggested to let baseball, basketball, volleyball and cycling die like Blockbuster Video.

Welsch even suggested that communities such as Dillon could see their football program forfeit an entire varsity season like Livingston did earlier this year.

Yes, he mentioned Dillon, which then showed Welsch just how wrong he was by beating the No. 1 team in the Class A.

Apparently, Welsch has never been to Dillon on a Saturday morning to see the town’s thriving youth flag football league. Every one of those boys (and girls) are dreaming of growing up to play for the Beavers.

Not the Cowboys, Patriots or Packers. They want to be Dillon Beavers.

They are not going to let football die on their watch.

Now, I do not like picking on one writer. Anyone can take any column that has been published and ridicule it. It is an unfair fight because you already saw the entire argument from the person you are arguing with ahead of time.

Jeff Welsch, though, is not just any writer. He is the editor of all the sports pages of every Montana newspaper owned by Lee Enterprises.

That means Welsch is in charge of The Billings Gazette, the Missoulian, The Helena Independent-Record, The Ravalli Republic and The Montana Standard. They are pretty influential newspapers to say the least.

He has a ton of power over the direction my profession is headed, and in this case, Welsch is setting a poor example.

When it comes time to fight for sports, we need the writers to be on the front lines.

For one thing, their pay checks depend upon it. If football suddenly stops serving as the heartbeat of communities on Friday nights, then the world will not need as many sportswriters.

If the boss of so many writers shrugs his shoulders and says, “If it dies, it dies,” then just maybe dying will be a more realistic option.

Rather, we need those writers to hit the mat and start pumping chest compressions.

High school football may, indeed, someday go away and no longer be ingrained in the fabric of our society. If it does happen, though, every sportswriter worth a lick will be kicking and screaming trying to make it stay.

Those who do not are just in the wrong profession.

It is too bad Blockbuster is no longer hiring.

— Bill Foley, who will not be applying for any jobs with Lee Enterprises any time soon, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on Email him at Follow him at Check out his NFL picks every Thursday.

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