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Butte’s Naranche Stadium to host 8-Man showcase; neutral-site championship next?

Posted at 5:05 PM, Mar 26, 2018

Paul Bills is hoping to further entrench 8-Man football in the Mining City.

Butte already hosts the annual Bob Cleverly 8-Man All-Star Game at Montana Tech, but Bills wants more. The Ennis athletic director is coordinating a four-game showcase to be played at Butte’s Naranche Stadium on the opening weekend of the 2018 high school football season.

Bills is still finalizing the schedule, but two games have been solidified: Defending champion Flint Creek will meet Clark Fork in one game, and Ennis will face Choteau in a non-conference matchup in another.

Flint Creek, the Drummond-Philipsburg co-op, defeated Forsyth 44-30 for the 2017 8-Man championship, while Clark Fork, the Alberton-Superior co-op, missed the 2017 state playoffs. Ennis and Choteau both qualified for the playoffs last season, with the Mustangs advancing to the semifinal round.

Park City, which just missed last year’s postseason, is also slated to play at Naranche Stadium, perhaps against a team from Idaho, according to Bills, who added that the four games will be played consecutively on Aug. 25.

Bills said he’s been working with Butte High athletic director Chuck Merrifield, and crews will bring in portable goal posts and tape off an 80-yard field on the artificial turf at Naranche Stadium.

The fourth game is yet to be determined. Bills is looking for another 8-Man game but would be more than happy to accommodate a 6-Man game or a Class B 11-man game. Athletic directors interested in scheduling a game as part of the showcase can reach Bills at pbills@ennisschools.org.

“It’s a good opportunity to showcase 8-Man football in Butte,” Bills said, adding that he’s a proponent of also playing a neutral-site 8-Man state championship in Butte.

Montana’s high school football championships are currently played at host sites determined by the bracket. Flint Creek and Forsyth played the 2017 state championship at Philipsburg.

In the past, administrators have discussed moving all state championship games to a neutral site, playing the Class AA, Class A, Class B, 8-Man and 6-Man championships at one venue on one weekend. Those conversations, which have included numerous formats and potential sites, have consistently stalled, leading 8-Man teams to search for an individual solution.

At a meeting in January, representatives of 8-Man teams discussed the possibility of a neutral-site championship rotating between Butte and Billings. The Montana High School Association distributed a survey asking administrators of 8-Man schools if they would be in favor of the neutral-site state championship.

“I believe that day (at the January meeting), it was something like an 18-8 vote in favor of it,” said Luke Kloker, the Class C representative on the Montana High School Association executive board. “But we didn’t feel like there was enough representation to make a decision, so that’s why the survey was sent out. I don’t know the results of the survey, but that will go in front of the executive board in April.”

The MHSA executive board meets April 9 and 10, when it will learn the results of the survey.