This is the second in a series on the quest for the best Montana high school football fields. Today Slim Kimmel visits Blue Pony Stadium in Havre.
As stories go, there’s one you’ll hear in many small-town football communities.
There’s only one place in the Treasure State where that tall tale was possibly, just maybe, born out of a hint of truth, though: Havre, Montana.
Havre football coach Jason Christenson started the story the same way everybody else would.
“I don’t know if it was a rumor or not, but they say back in the day,” he began, “that all the lights went out and they played the last few minutes of the game with everybody around the stadium turning their lights on. So they say they played the game under the car lights. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but that’s the rumor anyway.”
Blue Pony Stadium’s design leads one to believe that the story might not be that far from the truth. It’s simultaneously situated uphill from most of the town while sitting in a large bowl.
The north side of the bowl is a tiered parking lot, for lack of a better word, where fans can park on one of four levels overlooking the field. There’s a small set of bleachers between the first tier and the sideline, with the larger grandstands, press box and halftime huts for the teams on the opposite side.
“The new renovations with the new bleachers and scoreboards and things of that nature and the halftime huts, that came around 2004,” Christenson said, noting the high school took over the stadium in the 1970s when Northern Montana College, now Montana State Northern, disbanded its football program.
“Then Northern got their program back, so we share the field with Northern,” he continued. “It’s always been right here and it’s always been Blue Pony. It just looks a little different than it did back then.”
The silver bleachers are accented in Havre blue and white. The scoreboard, which proudly displays “Blue Pony Stadium” above the clock, follows the same color scheme and sits behind the east end zone.
Between the goal posts sits a well manicured grass field as it waits for the start of two football seasons: first the Blue Ponies’ season opener against Whitefish on Aug. 30, then the Lights’ Sept. 6 home opener against Dickinson State.
“I gotta hand it to the grounds crews that do this,” said Christenson, who himself played at Havre High School and then MSU Northern. “They keep it in phenomenal shape. You get those big dudes on there from the college, they tear up some ground. We’ve never had an issue with it being too torn up or where the ground’s kind of unplayable. It’s been pretty good.”
The most notable athlete to play at Blue Pony Stadium isn’t a “big dude” by football standards. Marc Mariani, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 187 pounds on the Tennessee Titans’ roster, played his high school ball in Havre blue and white, helping the Blue Ponies to the 2004 state championship with an undefeated season.
The rest of Mariani’s Montana career is Hi-Line legend by now. He walked on at the University of Montana in 2005 but didn’t see the field until the following season. He eventually set the Grizzlies’ program records for all-purpose yards in a single season (2,265 yards in 2008) and career (5,441).
Mariani’s humble beginnings, though, go back to Havre, under the stadium lights at Blue Pony.
“Havre, they love football,” Christenson said. “It’s just a great town, a great atmosphere to play in. It’s a lot of fun. The stadium, it gets loud. It gets really, really loud in here. You can imagine 100-200 cars honking their horns and flashing their lights.”
But they haven’t needed those headlights since back in the day …