Marc Burr’s efforts from the distant city of Billings have landed a trio of western Montana schools football games against unique opponents in a unique setting.
And he’d like more teams to get in on the action.
At 7 p.m. Aug. 29, the Hamilton Broncs will play Salmon, Idaho, inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium on the University of Montana campus.
The following day at WGS, Aug. 30, Ronan will play New Plymouth, Idaho, at 2 p.m., followed by a game between Frenchtown and Timberlake at 7 p.m.
It’s called the Hometown Pride Classic, and it’s unofficially the first of its kind. Hamilton played Salmon a year ago, so the matchup is not completely unique for the Broncs, who won last September’s game 55-26. Playing in the Montana Grizzlies’ football stadium will be.
“Mr. Burr has done a great job of putting it all together,” noted Travis Blome, Hamilton’s coach. “Our kids would love the opportunity to play at Wa-Griz. So it was kind of no-brainer for us.”
Frenchtown coach Kyle Rausch said almost the identical thing. He was forwarded an email by his athletic director, from Burr, detailing a possible game against Ronan or another opponent.
“It was kind of a no-brainer for us,” said Rausch, whose Broncs haven’t faced the Tigers, who hail from a 16-year-old school in Spirit Lake, Idaho. “I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ My kids are so jacked about it they can barely stand themselves.”
This makes Burr happy. Making him happier would be if the Class AA schools like defending state champion Bozeman could get in on the act.
Burr is general manager of the Billings Wolves, which will bring indoor football back to Billings in 2015 after a four-year absence. He’s also a Cincinnati native who loves all things football, including the Skyline Crosstown Showdown games that dominate the early season in Ohio.
The series, which began 16 years ago, pits some Ohio teams against schools from Kentucky, Indiana and other states.
“Our guys play against teams from everywhere,” said Burr, who played at Northwest High in Cincinnati. “For some of these kids, that’s the biggest game that they play in.”
It’s true that not every player on even the best team gets to go onto a big college, so a chance to play at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, (capacity: 20,000) is a pretty big deal. Washington-Grizzly Stadium holds 25,208.
It was Burr’s hope to match Bozeman up with one of the bigger Washington schools, like Bellevue or (Sammammish’s) Skyline High, and possibly at Montana State’s Bobcat Stadium. Further on, he hopes, many of the state’s larger schools could meet opponents from Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho or the Dakotas.
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His timing isn’t bad. With the opening of Kalispell’s Glacier High School in 2007, Class AA adopted an eight-year rotating schedule that gave every one of its 14 schools 10 games.
That eight-year rotation ends with this coming season, and Burr has asked a couple athletic directors to propose changes to the schedule. Splitting Class AA into two seven-team leagues, as there are in basketball, is one approach.
That would imply a six-team conference schedule for each team, but Burr is actually thinking more along the lines of an eight-game schedule, leaving two weeks for nonconference games against foes found out-of-state.
The athletic directors meet in September, but two who were reached this week seemed lukewarm at best about a possible change. The eight-year rotation was the best possible solution, balancing schedules and eliminating the headache of finding games.
It’s not perfect – for one two-year span the Helena schools didn’t play their closest competitors, the Great Falls schools – but it was the most perfect. The Kalispell and Billings schools are hesitant to make too many trips back and forth. This rotation limited those trips to one per year.
“We’re in the last year of our rotation and there’s been discussion,” said Mark Wahl, director of athletics for Billings’ public schools. “So I’m not sure what’s going to happen. But I don’t think it (Burr’s proposal) is likely.”
“We’ve even had a motion to go east and west (divisions),” added Gary DeGooyer of Great Falls Russell. “I don’t think anybody was in favor of it.
“More than likely we’ll go back to the 2007-08 schedule.”
Still, there’s a chance. Proposals will be bandied about in September in Helena, but nothing will be decided. Decisions will be voted on at the next meeting, which is set for Dec. 1.
If the eight-year rotation is restarted, each school will have a “zero week” – a bye. Not many coaches are likely to give up a zero week to add to a 10-game schedule.
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A year ago, Rausch said, he probably wouldn’t have taken the game against Timberlake even with the venue meaning what it does to his Broncs. He was starting six sophomores.
“I’m bringing back a lot of experience,” said the Frenchtown grad, who is entering his third year as coach of his alma mater. “And so playing that zero week won’t be too much of a problem.”
A year ago Ronan had a seven-game schedule that started with a nonleague game against Eureka. Now the Class B school can play eight games, starting with the Pilgrims.
Things are gearing up. Blome was painting lines on Haynes Field ahead of a football clinic for his Hamilton team next week. Not long after that teams will begin practicing.
Blome doesn’t know how the 2015 schedule is shaping up – if Salmon will want to keep playing – but he likes the idea of starting it at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
“We would like to keep playing in the series as long as we can,” he said. “We would love to be part of it every year.”