‘SCREW’GED for the Shrine Game

Following the release of the roster for the annual East-West Shrine Game to the media on Dec. 23, I had mixed feelings. Seeing Joey Orrino make the roster made me smile from ear to ear, knowing full well he worked his tail off to get in the position he was.
Then I started to second-guess myself. I looked up and down, thinking there must be a mistake. I couldn’t find Eric Boyd or Marcus Monaco for anything. I see handfuls of kids from Class AA schools, even those that had losing records, but neither one of these two.
I then looked to the reserves. Still nothing. My joy for Joey turned to sickness for these two. They didn’t even make the reserve list even though both were All-State at their position being the second name down the list in all of Class A.
Here’s Monaco, a young man who signed one of the first letters of intent for a lineman to play at the Frontier level for Western a week ago, and he doesn’t make the list for the biggest prep football game in Montana?
Then there’s Boyd. A young man I considered one of the best athletes on the field in every game I watched. I nearly broke down and called him to give him a heads up once I realized he didn’t make the cut, but knew I’d be breaking the code of the Christmas Day embargo with releasing the names of those selected.
I could barely sleep that night. I knew how it was going to crush that young man when he opened the paper and didn’t see his name. And it did.
I called him at 8 a.m. Christmas morning asking if he had read the paper. He did. The punch in the gut happened again. I strayed away from compliments all season knowing full well I’d be able to heap them on in bucketfuls when Tuesday morning came. I was his biggest critic, hounding him for silly interceptions and for routes he chose to jump resulting in a missed assignment defensively. By doing so I wanted him to get better, knowing all the while he could throw it back in my face when he was honored with being selected.
I will say that when I finally did give him the credit he was due, I choked up a few times.
Boyd should have been given his letter of acceptance for the game when he engineered a 28-point fourth quarter down 27-0 against Butte Central on Sept. 21. He threw two TD passes and ran for two more including two, two-point conversion passes, accounting for 230 of Anaconda’s 339 total yards (127 rushing, 103 passing). Oh, he also intercepted the final pass of the game to make the win official.
If that wasn’t enough to put him on the short list, it just wasn’t meant to be.
But looking through the roster of players, it made me wonder. I know this game is for the best athletes regardless of position. That was made abundantly clear when Dillon’s Ben Folsom was chosen at safety for the Shrine Game when he made All-State as a quarterback. (Typically, all All-State level players are the ones chosen for the game in that position, and then moved, if necessary, when the game rolls around). But if a team had six of the best players in Montana, wouldn’t they be a pretty tough team to stop?
Evidentially not. Take Missoula Big Sky for example. They get four starters and two reserves for the Shrine Game from a 4-6 team, beating the likes of Flathead (1-9), Hellgate (1-9), Sentinel (2-8) and Skyview (6-5). So from their four-win season, Big Sky’s four wins came from teams with a combined record of 10-31.
Anaconda gets one from a team that went from 0-8 in 2011 to 7-4 in 2012, not to mention losing to all four teams in the semifinals of Class A — Billings Central (12-0), Dillon (8-2), Polson (9-1) and Livingston (8-2) — sporting a combined record or 37-5. Even if Class AA is supremely better from top to bottom than Class A, it still doesn’t make sense.
I still can’t wrap my head around it.
 
Precursor to Friday Night Lights
Before every game, there needs to be a specific game plan put in for each and every opponent. This typically begins on the Sunday following the previous game by the head coach and his staff. In that meeting, the coaches start each meeting with the following questions: 1) How do we or what do we do to stop (blank) offensively; and 2) How do we stay away from or take (blank) out of the game, defensively? In each game Anaconda played this year, every opposing coach put Boyd’s name in each category.
He is a game changer. Period. Put him in the 40-yard dash, and he’s not a 4.4 guy. Enter him in the 100- or 200-meter sprints, and he would be a middle of the pack 11-flat or 11.2 fella. But put shoulder pads and a helmet on a kid and let his instinct do the work, and he suddenly becomes faster than everyone. It’s called having football speed. Jerry Rice fit this profile. Butte native and Philadelphia Eagles safety Colt Anderson does, too. So does Boyd.
That isn’t to say Boyd compares to those two, I’m just making a broad generalization of how his talents are specific to the gridiron.
Kyle Moore, a former Copperhead all-state defensive back chosen for the 2011 Shrine Game following a standout 2010 season was equally distraught with the roster.
“One word describes Eric Boyd not making the Shrine Game — snub,” said Moore, who covered the Copperheads as a color commentator for KANA 580 AM. “I think it is an absolute shame that he didn’t make the roster.”
Moore and Boyd were comparable beasts as prep stars for Anaconda High. Both were lockdown defensive backs and doubled as the starting quarterback even when being the signal caller was far down on the list of what they were best at. With that being said, their athletic ability pushed them into the conversation of the best QBs in the Southwestern A — each of whom were given the gift of improvisation and competitiveness.
“Boyd impacted the Copperheads in so many different ways that led the boys to the state quarterfinals. In my opinion, Anaconda was a three-win team without him,” Moore said. “He commanded the offense and defense by being the quarterback of both sides of the ball. I can’t picture that defense being that effective without Boyd controlling the middle of the field. His sideline-to-sideline speed allowed the front seven to blitz whenever they felt necessary, because the coaching staff knew the middle of the field was shored up by Boyd.”
Both Moore and myself were in agreement of one thing all year long. No matter if they played the likes of Folsom or Austin Carver of Dillon or Jacob Stanton of Billings Central, he was in the conversation of being the best athletes on the field.
“I could argue for days about how much Boyd meant to the Copperheads and how he was the best athlete on the field every game we covered,” Moore said. “Every broadcast I made sure to point out that he was easily the best pure athlete on the field, usually the best player. I am at lost for words to say how disappointed I am in the selection committee. Eric was snubbed out of the biggest high school football game in Montana.”
Copperhead head coach Bob Orrino was equally disappointed for Monaco and Boyd.
“As far as we made it, I thought at the minimum we should have got Eric and Marcus on the alternates list,” said Anaconda head coach Bob Orrino. “I was a little disappointed when I didn’t see their name on the list anywhere.”
Boyd accounted for 64 percent of Anaconda offense this season, rushing for an AHS QB record 854 yards, passing for 948 and catching one pass for 50 yards.
I talked with one head coach in the Southwestern A who wanted to remain anonymous, but said that he believed Boyd was more important to his team than any other player in the SW-A, and possibly the state for that matter. In fact, I can only say that one player was equal or more important to their team’s success in my opinion — that being Butte High’s Dallas Cook.
Throughout the year, many former standout athletes and even those with extensive knowledge of Copperhead football said the best teams in AHS history had four or five Eric Boyd’s on the team. That may have been true back in the day, but it wasn’t this year.
In my eyes, the true mark of the young man Boyd is and has become is in his character. After telling him my final column for the Leader would be a collective rant on his behalf, his text message to me only clarified him being one of the best Copperheads I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.
“You know, I appreciate everything you do and have done for me, but don’t take anything away from Joey by putting articles about someone who didn’t get selected,” he said.
He cared only about those whom he shared glory with, even if the roster snub put into question every snap, rushing or passing yard or win or loss this season he endured.
If that’s not the mark of a champion or the quality a college coach wants to build around, then football isn’t the sport for me.
If you feel the same way, you can call player selection chairman Dennis McSweeney at (406) 459-4060 or send him an e-mail to dennismcsweeney@yahoo.com.
I encourage you to be courteous and respectful in your comments to Mr. McSweeney, too. Nothing good ever came out of an aggressive, nonsensical rant, especially when it’s on behalf of a young man such as Boyd.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night

To some this is the day they’ve been waiting for. For others, their sounding board for all things going wrong in Anaconda will be stepping down.

As many have heard, I’ll be relinquishing my role as the sports and outdoors editor here at the Anaconda Leader and moving on. All the haters, rejoice!

Many memories and friendships have been made sitting at the smallest desk in the Leader office, while the truest colors of all have also been uncovered.

I hold no ill will to those who bring you the news every Wednesday and Friday, in fact I still pledge to remain a subscriber, I just feel another opportunity is there for the taking, and I owe it to my ever-growing family to pursue it.

From covering the Copperhead girls’ basketball team’s amazing back-to-back Class A State Championship run in 2007-’08 to this year’s football team’s rise from the dead, this has been far more than a just a job. I loved every day of work, on good days and bad, knowing it was my calling in life.

I’ve met some amazing people along the way, most notably the coaches I’ve been honored to learn from, sit down with and confide in — and not only those who call the Smelter City home. It has been truly inspiring and enlightening.

But for me, bringing the public up close and personal to some of the greatest young men and women I’ve ever met is what I cherish most of all. I’ve had the pleasure of writing about all kinds of quality individuals, from the likes of Jesse Laslovich, the only non-politician in politics I know, to Rob Johnson, who, despite never being raised in Anaconda still holds it close, and the too numerous to mention athletes that have and continue to strike me as remarkable individuals and members of society on and off the playing field.

When I began here in 2007, my goals were clear. I wanted the sports section to rival and mimic those of a daily publication full of colorful pictures, concise stories and informational and truthful columns. From the many people I’ve been in contact with during my time, I think I’ve done just that even when my personal opinions weren’t exactly popular with the majority of my readers.

Looking back on some of the hate mail makes me smile because, well, I love a good argument. As a newspaperman, I especially appreciate when people hate you for your opinion and are shocked and appalled how it can be written, only to fire back in the same manner, usually anonymously. I guess my biggest lesson when I began this gig was the term “irony” wasn’t just a slang term from a Goosetowner and Lincoln Elementary student for getting the wrinkles out of ones slacks (c’mon, I’m a proud Washington and Dwyer school boy, you didn’t think I could let that easy opportunity go no did you?).

I’ve prided myself on keeping track of the kids when they left Anaconda High, too, many of whom I’ve developed personal relationships to this day. Nothing brings me more joy than to see our local athletes take their talents into the college ranks and spread the true spirit of what it means to be a Copperhead into a more diverse circle of people. And time after time, the city of Anaconda and AHS come out winners.

Our policy is we don’t thank those who have been the most helpful and inspirational in columns and reader’s submissions, however this, my farewell column, is going to bend the rules (like that’s something new, right?). The owner and publisher here at the Leader, Dean Neitz, is an amazing individual. At 84-years-young, he still manages to work everyday, depending on the snowfall at Discovery that is, and is the fabric of what makes Anaconda a grand place to raise a family even if he calls Philipsburg home. Without him, I wouldn’t be writing this, and I know, without his guidance, I wouldn’t have become the writer I am now (insert punch line here).

My biggest debt of gratitude has to go to my wife, Melissa, for having the courage to never read my columns in order to stay clear of the next angry mob deadset on getting me fired. Through it all, she’s disagreed with me more than any one of the pick and torch gang, and has still stayed by my side.

An honorable mention in the “thank you” department goes to the father-son duo of Dave and Mike McLean, who, if not for their death row-like track record in the courts or on the lanes, many of my punchlines would’ve held no merit.

And while I’m name dropping, I have to give a shout out (in no particular order but as you can see I was going from the earliest to most recent) to Marcus Lussy, Clark Hensley, Kelly Deeks, Tristan Spehar, Dustin Hanson, Jake Orrino, Lucas Wagner, Tyler Hurley, Henry Huber, Steve Collins, Matt King, Cory Orrino, Cory Donahue, Chris and Sean Funston, Cara Laslovich, Sammi Barkell, Ali Hurley, Courtney (Austin) Green, McCall Flynn, Kirstin King, Korey Krumm, Torry Hill, Lisa Laslovich, Chelsea Galle, Rachel Wagner, Kelsey Austin, Erin Heaney, Teryn Green, Kyle Moore, Colton and Taylor Scholler, Jayme Stergar, Bobby Smollack, Hannah Anderson, Mia Estes, Karli King, Courtney Moodry, Taylor Flynn, Eric Boyd, Joey Orrino, Anthony Orrino, Jayce Barclay, Geoff Dierenfeldt, Jade Green, Jackson Wagner, Zach Dauenhauer, Jacqueline Verlanic, Vatore Hekkel, Kaylea Jorgensen, Kara Jouhal, Teah Fuller, Drew Conrady and Caleb Stetzner — all names that came right off the top of my head when thinking about those who treated me as equal, or better, during my time here (I know I may have missed a few, too).

Luckily, I’ll still be covering Anaconda High School sports, just in a slightly different capacity with KANA 580 AM and also on my Copperhead Country blog at csphotollc.com (for now, it will be moving shortly to www.copperheadcountry.com) and on Twitter at @blakeahssports I’ll cover sporting events and local news tidbits on the blog until our own Web site is up and operational, giving the reader and Anacondans up to the minute news on the happening here in the Smelter City.

I urge you to keep supporting the Leader as a valuable news source here in Anaconda, and sincerely thank you for all the hate mail, letters of encouragement and jokes along the way. It will all make for a good book some day.

Through it all I’ve been called a craven, scourge, coward, liar, deadbeat, punk, misinformed, incorrect and unfair, and my writings have been compared to Neo-Nazi vitriol, which from my findings on Wikipedia is pretty bad.

I’ve been told “the pen is mightier than the sword, but when misused either one can jump up and bite you.” And all this time, I had no idea pens or swords could jump or bite. Maybe if the scribe of that letter said the frog is mightier than the dragon, his/her point would’ve been made a little more sense. A stretch, yes, but I digress.

As you can tell from my rambling, it’s hard for me to let this job and sounding board go. The job has proven to me that no matter the controversy or how much a portion of individuals hated me for every word I said, at least they kept reading to see what was next on the list for them to disagree with.

At least now my bowling and golf scores — if I get the chance to pick the games up again — can finally hit news print without the insinuation that the only reason I put them in is to get my name in the paper. And yes, that letter actually hit my desk.

Thanks for the great ride, Anaconda.