Quest for the Best: Red Lodge and Columbus football fields

2014-07-23T19:00:00Z 2014-07-30T16:17:04Z Quest for the Best: Red Lodge and Columbus football fields The Billings Gazette

Columbus’ Graham Field hasn’t seen many head coaches on the home team’s sideline. John Smith, who is entering his 24th season at the helm, said he’s only the Cougars’ sixth coach the field has seen in its 60-plus years of existence.

The field, named after Jim Graham, who was a “great supporter of Columbus sports and the Cougars,” according to Smith, has seen gradual changes over the years. The most notable renovations have come in the last decade when Columbus installed a new track and grandstands.

“We had to move the field a little bit, because we put in the track,” Smith said. “So it isn’t exactly where it was before, but it’s in a better location based on the track and everything else.”

The slight adjustment isn’t noticeable, unless you’re looking for it. The field, which runs east-west, is no longer centered with the light poles. It isn’t a big deal except for one end zone corner that Smith said is a little darker than the rest of the playing field.

The grass surface is regarded as one of the best in Class B, if not all of Montana, and the view from the bleachers ranks up there, too. Looking south across the field, fans are treated to a view of the Beartooth Mountains.

Once in the heart of the Beartooths, District 4B football fans get one of the best backdrops that Montana has to offer for a game. Palisades Field sits above Red Lodge with the ski resort in the background behind the home sideline and bleachers.

Rock Creek runs behind the opposite bench.

“About every fall, when we come up here for practice, every once in a while we’ll see a couple black bears going across the side there (above Rock Creek),” said John Fitzgerald, Red Lodge’s interim superintendent. “It’s just a great venue for a high school and community. Our kids should be proud to be able to play on this.”

Fitzgerald, who resigned as Red Lodge’s head football coach this spring, graduated from Columbus. His high school career landed him with the Montana Grizzlies, where he was part of the 2001 national championship team.

After playing in Columbus and coaching in Red Lodge, Fitzgerald cherishes the 4B rivalries and the venues those teams play in.

“(Red Lodge) is my hometown now,” he said. “It’s been a great place for me and my family. But going back to Columbus, it was great for me there, too. The experiences I was able to get there under coach Smith and Columbus, it was just a good all-around thing both ways.”

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