There’s something special about football on a Friday night. As the players walk out of the locker room onto the field, the sun sets and lights shine bright.
The glow highlights the field, like it’s the only place in town that matters. And, in small Montana towns, for those few hours, the football field is the only place that matters. Communities take on the identity of their teams, an identity that’s earned between the sidelines.
Every sideline is different, and they all outline different fields. The venues are unique, often providing an awe-inspiring ambience where hearts are broken and memories made.
From the soon-to-be multimillion-dollar facility in Glendive to historic Memorial Stadium in Great Falls to the scenic views in Charlo -- home to Montana’s longest winning streak -- each is different.
This summer’s quest for the best field took us to opposite corners of Big Sky Country. In all, we drove more than 1,700 miles in 29 hours in an attempt to leave no gridiron stone unturned.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll rank the best venues out of Montana’s hundreds of fields. There are no set criteria; the top 10 features fields from all five Montana football classifications. We’ll start with Nos. 10-6 fields then count down to our No. 1 field, which we'll reveal in the Gazette on Aug. 28 -- one day before the 2014 football season kicks off.
No. 10 – Highwood
Highwood’s field has lost a little of its mystique since the Mountaineers were forced to co-op with longtime rival Geraldine, but it’s still the best field in Class C 6-Man football. It’s nestled in a bowl in the small community with a picturesque backdrop of the Highwood Mountains. What vaults it into the top 10, though, is the field itself, which is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, in 6-Man due to its ability to drain without a major crown.
No. 9 – Miles City
With the recent renovations, Connors Stadium moves back into the top 10. It was showing noticeable wear and tear in 2012, but the new bleachers and especially the re-seeded field make it one of the best stops in eastern Montana. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fuller and lusher grass surface, which doubles as the baseball park’s outfield.
No. 8 – Drummond
As you drive across Montana on Interstate 90, a handful of fields butt right up to the highway. Drummond's is the most notable. The Trojans own an outstanding tradition to go along with the unique venue. The gradual slope of the freeway makes the field appear to slant, but it’s a level playing field, even if Drummond rarely loses a game on it.
No. 7 – Ronan
Ronan was the first school in Class B to play on an artificial surface, though it was installed when the Chiefs were in Class A. Of the four venues with artificial turf (Ronan, Baker, Billings and Laurel), Ronan’s field is arguably tops. It’s made a difference in western Montana, where more teams employ a spread offense. The view of the Mission Mountains isn’t bad, either.
No. 6 – Columbus/Red Lodge (tie)
Red Lodge has Montana’s best football field view this side of the Rocky Mountains, and Columbus is known from border to border as having one of the best grass fields in the state. It's meticulously maintained and never seems to show the wear of a long season or harsh winter. The two District 4B teams haven’t been especially accommodating to opponents in recent years, but the facilities aren’t to blame. They’re top notch.
Honorable mentions (listed alphabetically): Anaconda, Billings, Fort Benton, Gardiner, Harlowton.