Charm of small towns on display at Plateau Valley football game
Small towns, where country music singer Miranda Lambert says everybody dies famous, resonate with me.
I grew up in the rural Midwest, near towns much like Collbran, which I had occasion to visit last month for a story about the Plateau Valley High School football team. The Cowboys were about to conclude a disappointing season with another lopsided loss, 70-16 to previously winless Nucla, but I wasn’t really there for that. I wanted to see the other elements and people, the atmosphere I suspected would be on display.
Plateau Valley didn’t disappoint, leaving me more than a little nostalgic on a beautiful Saturday afternoon during which a light breeze from the west blew golden aspen leaves onto the north end of the football field.
Greeting vehicles to charge a few bucks for each occupant was the high school’s athletic director, John Holmes.
“My ticket takers didn’t show up,” he said, meaning he drew another duty that day.
Eventually elementary school teacher Cammie Hill drove up, parked her car, pulled a baby out of the back seat, plopped it in a stroller, informed Holmes, “My babysitter didn’t show up,” and relieved him as the ticket taker. She did it all with a smile.
Holmes was then free to tackle his next duty, serving as public-address announcer for the pregame. But, before he could do that, Ryan Satterfield walked up to tell him, “There’s trouble with the chain gang,” which elicited a quip from Holmes: “You mean, there isn’t one?”
Yep, that’s what he meant. Before Holmes could say anything more, Satterfield saw a sport utility vehicle turn off the highway onto the road to the school. Problem solved. “There they are now,” he said.
I stopped during halftime to chat with school district superintendent Greg Randall and LeRoy Gutierrez, principal of Plateau Valley’s high school and middle school. They were perched on the tailgate of a Nissan Frontier pickup to watch the game until they got up and walked to the Ford F-250 that was parked next to them. They had just been told about a buck one of the freshman football players killed that morning, and sure enough, the buck’s skull, complete with dried blood smears and five-point rack, was resting in the bed of the Ford.
Two girls listening to music in the cab of the Ford said the prize belonged to Triston Lampshire, indeed a freshman who was playing that afternoon.
Gutierrez remarked, “Kid shoots a deer in the morning and plays football in the afternoon. That’s PV right there.”
Randall replied, “Yes, it is.”
The game had turned into a rout by halftime, 54-16, so I paid more attention to other things than the action on the field. Such as:
■ Randall pointed to a Nucla player who was walking away, revealing the back of his jersey was torn near one of his shoulders, and the jersey was being held together with tape.
“See what budget cuts are doing to athletic programs,” Randall said with a broad smile.
■ At one point, Plateau Valley freshman quarterback Arles Hernandez, who also won two state championships in junior high for bull riding, took a hit to the chest that knocked the wind out of him. As the coaches were checking on him, according to head coach Dave Bristol, one of the assistant coaches told Hernandez, “You’ve been hit worse falling off bulls.”
Bristol said Hernandez responded, “That one was pretty close, coach.”
■ Satterfield, a former Plateau Valley player, Class of 2009, sat in the stands to watch the game. He said he helped the coaching staff from time to time during the season, so his attendance was to be expected.
Satterfield played all four years in high school, and his freshman year was similar to the one the Cowboys just endured. They finished 1-8 in Satterfield’s first year, then went 4-5, 4-7 and 5-4. So, he knows the young players who stick it out can be rewarded for their efforts.
“I just loved playing football,” Satterfield said, adding he didn’t get discouraged by the losses because, “I knew they weren’t all going to be like that.”
Satterfield said football is “very important” at a small school.
“That’s what got me through the fall semester in high school,” he said. “It was motivation to stay eligible and get your work done. And track was that in the spring.”
Postgame brought my favorite moment. It’s common for people to speak of how friendly folks are in small towns, and this exemplified the point:
Plateau Valley senior West Castro, who broke his collarbone during the first series of the game, was walking to his car, arm in a sling. He could have been upset about the loss and his injury and mired in self-pity.
Instead, as the Nucla bus started its drive out of the parking lot, Castro raised his free arm — and waved goodbye to the Nucla players.