Call it the new venue, improved players or a fairly new coaching staff finally able to implement their pass happy offensive style effectively, but Butte High football has turned it around.
But if you were asking this guy, I’d say that stadium has a lot to do with it.
Beginning play last year, Butte High is now 10-1 in their refurbished Naranche Stadium, set to the north of their high school in uptown Butte.
And last week’s dramatic 37-36 win in overtime was just the topping on an already tasty cake for Bulldog faithful.
Crammed with fans set no more than seven yards off the field, the place is loud. It’s unlike anything teams in Montana have to deal with on a regular basis.
Even with the game getting changed from Friday night to Saturday afternoon due to some sketchy driving conditions from Great Falls, the crowd was indeed a factor.
I went over for two reasons: 1) to watch former Anaconda High student athlete Dallas Cook, a junior quarterback, play for the Bulldogs and 2) see what all the buzz about Naranche is.
Both were as good, no, great as advertised.
Cook’s transformation from a skittish, unsure freshman backup quarterback behind Kyle Moore to a confident, leader in the fast-paced, spread passing offense is remarkable.
In a game where the field surface wasn’t exactly what you would call ideal, playing on a mix of frozen grass, gravel, ice and packed snow, Cook completed 21-of-30 passes for 236 yards and a touch down.
Even when the Rustlers dropped eight into coverage, Cook pulled it down and toted the rock for 130 yards and four TDs on 20 carries to make up for the lack of yards passing.
I spoke with Cook afterwards, a young man I built a bit of a rapport with during his one year at AHS, and told him it was one of the most clutch performances I’ve witnessed.
But I don’t know if it could’ve been as special seeing the game at Bulldog Memorial.
Naranche just has a feel of football. It combines subtleties from Washington Grizzly Stadium in Missoula at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, but was also careful not to ruin the unique backdrop of the old, rundown, industrialized buildings of uptown Butte.
When driving by, it doesn’t seem like much. It’s surface is set below the street level, which probably added another drop in temperature from the near-zero degree day Saturday. But once you’re standing at field level, it really is a magical place.
Could any team come in there and win wearing the Purple and White, no. But having a place like that to call home, I can tell you right now little boys in Butte are dreaming of wearing the big “B” on the side of their helmets these day instead of the intertwined BC — something that hasn’t happened for a long time on the Hill.
Why not us
The Department of Revenue can tuck and roll from the top of Mount Haggin for all I care. That statement rings even more true now after I’ve witnessed Naranche Stadium first hand.
You see, Naranche too was built using Tax Increment Finance District monies in order to update the venerable stadium and school grounds while also doubling to stabilize the uptown economy, to the tune of about $5 million. But when School District 10 in Anaconda wanted to do the same, which would’ve encompassed a football and track and field facility as well, rotten politicians and the DOR stepped in and tried their best to stop it.
Once the issue went to court, several documents and even lawyers for the state went on to say how irresponsible it was to sink money into a football stadium.
Tell that to Bulldog fans.
Saturday’s attendance wasn’t announced, but I’m sure it was around 2,000 to 2,500 — most of whom found a place to eat or drink in uptown Butte afterwards.
Will the total amount of the money ever be recouped? Probably not. But who can put a price tag on a school investing in the students’ welfare outside of the classroom as well?
I’ve always said sports is an extension of the classroom. And just ask Bob Orrino or Shawn Hansen after their own successful football season, winning on the field of play not only increases the well being of the student body, but overall behavior as well.
Talk to anyone associated with Community Hospital of Anaconda when a prospective doctor or nurse thinks of taking a job here. The first place they tour is the school and its facilities.
What speaks more volumes than an investment into their students like what Butte High did with Naranche.
I spoke with John Thatcher and Bill Foley at the football game and told them how lucky they were to be able to watch a game at Naranche. I made it a point to speak with Butte High athletic director Chuck Merrifield and tell him what a grand place he had.
I can’t wait until someone says the same to me at Mitchell Stadium.