With spring sports officially off the table, it’s time to think about…football!
High school football in Montana has been around for 119 years and will more than likely be around as long as high schools exist — in other words forever. The sport has changed a lot over
the years, especially around players’ safety. Long ago, kids played with a thick leather cover over their heads; today, they wear helmets with air pumps and other features that help protec their heads. Rules have changed as well on how a player can hit or be hit.
The first recorded high school championship game was in 1900 when Butte beat Fort Benton 15-0. From 1900 to 1929, there was only one class, with schools of all sizes playing each other.
Butte dominated the sport for most of that time: It had a population of 90,000 to 100,000, the largest city in Montana by far, due to concentration of mining in the area. Rules weren’t yet in effect that required players to attend a school in order to be on the team. Not to take anything away from them, but Butte people are known for toughness and togetherness even to this day.
There was no State championship game played in 1902; Helena and Fort Shaw shared the title with the best records. The same happened in 1906, when Livingston and Great Falls wer undefeated and shared the title. The 1918 flu epidemic killed off that year’s championship — and I hope that does not happen with the COVID-19 pandemic that we are struggling with now.
High school football went to two divisions for 1930-32, dropped back to one from 1933-1938, then returned to two in 1939. In 1949 it expanded to three divisions, which lasted until 1953, when it came down to two again, and 1955, when it settled on just one.
No playoffs were held in 1956 or 1957. People were concerned and fearful for the kids as injuries became more common. In fact, Jefferson High School canceled its football program in 1958 when the late Doctor Pallister voiced his concerns to the school board. Protective equipment was not very good in those days; I am sure the board did the right thing.
Montana returned to two divisions from 1958-1972. Equipment was getting better each year and the JHS school board decided to start football again in 1969. Twenty-nine boys signed up to play football that year. Phil Koterba was the head coach, with Jim Connole and Henry (Hank) Elliott as assistants.
The Montana High School Association went to four divisions in 1973 and stayed that way until 1982, when the current configuration emerged: AA, A, B, C-8 and C-6. AA, A and B schools play 11-man football, while C schools either play 8-man or 6-man depending on their size.
Drummond dominated C-8 football winning five State titles from 2003-2009. And in Class B,
Fairfield has been in the championship game eight times in the last 13 years, winning the title in 2011, 2015 and 2018. Equipment has continued to improve and concussions are watched closely. Football is one of two Montana High School sports, along with wrestling, that boys and girls can participate in together.All-State selections started for football in 1975. Dan Phalen of the Panthers was selected that year, followed by: Troy Timmer in 1979, Kirk Timmer in 1981, Brett Charlton in 1987, Chris Charlton in 1989, Travis Spainhower and Dan Chapuis in 1990, Kevin Brewer 1991, Brian Gillett,Doug Murry, Bob McEachern in 1993, Rhett Buckland in 1994, Luke Ostby in 1995, Justin McLeod in 1996, Luke Nyland in 1997, Adam Cordeiro in 1998, Jake Rask 1998 and 1999, Aaron Sieminski in 1999, Ryan Lewis and Tanner Rask in 2000, Justin Clement 2001, Eric Alexander, Tyson Benson, and Tucker Visser in 2002, Bo Bolstad and Brandon Morgan in 2003, Tom Clement in 2003 and 2004, Chris Hert in 2004, Scott Mundaniohl in 2011, Trase LeTexier in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Alex Burnett and Sam Fletcher in 2013, Reilly Leary in 2014, Nick Winfieldin 2015, Nate Burnett in 2016 and 2017, Hayden Guisti in 2017, and Coen Guisti, Avery Stiles and Jaxson Yanzick 2019. Many of these Panthers have went on to play college football.