By Joseph T. O’Connor Big Sky Weekly Editor
It’s a new place for me, Big Sky. New people, new discoveries, new rules. A week ago, Lone Peak High School sports reinforced the fact that I have a lot to learn.
On Saturday, Oct. 6, LPHS celebrated its Homecoming festivities with two sports contests. Being new to Big Sky, I attended both the football game and volleyball match, hoping to meet a few people while catching the Big Horns in action.
My first impression of local football left me confused. Where were the other five Lone Peak players? And where was the rest of the Hot Springs Savage Heat team?
I quickly realized this was six-man football, something I had never seen. It’s a fast, often high-scoring version of six-on-six gridiron played on an 80-yard field, as opposed to the traditional 100-yard pitch with 11 players on each squad. ‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘I can handle this’.
Hot Springs, a team expected to be a strong contender for the state title, traveled nearly five and a half hours to play Lone Peak, and scored on the opening drive. It was 8-0. What, 8-0?
Dave House, co-owner of The Corral Bar, Steakhouse and Motel, was at the game and sorted this one out for me. He explained that points scored after a touchdown in six-man football are opposite from the 11-man game: A field goal is worth two points, whereas a conversion is one. Copy. Now I understood the rules.
The day was warm, and fans decked out in blue cheered on the home team. It was a tough day for the Big Horns, who lost 65-6, but the team was not without its shining moments, especially after halftime.
The Big Horns shutout Hot Springs in the second half and Lone Peak senior Tucker Shea was able to put the offense on the board with a touchdown.
At halftime, the homecoming parade made its way from end zone to end zone. Leading the way, a red jeep with white and blue tape strips carried a two-man t-shirt launcher, which shot balled-up shirts into the outstretched hands of giddy fans. A pickup truck followed, covered with decals depicting ski runs at Big Sky Resort. The truck hauled a flatbed loaded with members of the homecoming court, led by Queen Kaela Schommer and King Danny Klein.
Klein, a senior on the team who recently moved to Big Sky from Florida and traditional football, empathized with my confusion about the short-sided game. “Moving from 11-man to six-man is tough,” he said, wearing his crown at the girls’ volleyball match that evening. “I’d never seen it [in Florida].”
Lucky for me, Big Sky volleyball rules are consistent with those on the East Coast (I moved from Boston, most recently). The 5 p.m. match pitted the lady Big Horns against the Shields Valley Rebels, bringing out many of the same fans that attended the football game.
Also in attendance were the school pep band, complete with a full drum kit, plenty of supportive parents, and many of the football players. Chants of “Let’s go Big Horns!” echoed through the gymnasium in the Bough-Dolan Athletic Complex.
The Rebels took a quick lead, 4-0, before Lone Peak could answer. The lady Big Horns lost the first set but driven by their coach, Sarah Phelps, the girls took it to Shields Valley in both the second and third sets, keeping them close.
With Lone Peak down 13-24, a controversial call in the third set led to a referee meeting. A Shields Valley player appeared to hit the net after a lady Big Horn volley, but the refs determined it to be an accident and replayed the point.
“I really hoped they’d give us that [point],” said Phelps, a volleyball official for six years and a coach for eight.
Lone Peak ultimately lost the final two sets, 15-25 and 13-25, respectively, but Coach Phelps, who has coached many of the girls since middle school, was proud of their effort.
“We’re improving with every single game,” she said. “With Homecoming, things are starting to come into fruition. We’re right on the cusp of success.”
I know what Coach Phelps means. There’s much for me to learn in Big Sky, perhaps from places I hadn’t anticipated, such as LPHS sporting events. But I’m learning the rules.