BIG SANDY — In Big Sandy’s first game of the year against Sunburst on Aug. 24, quarterback Parker Proulx found his brother Brock Proulx for a routine reception downfield.
Officially, the completion went for 30 yards and a first down.
But for Brock, Parker and their family it meant so much more. It marked the first time the brothers had played together on the same field in more than six years.
“I heard over the PA, ‘Proulx to Proulx, he finds his older brother,’” Brock said. “That was a really, really big thing for me to hear. I kind of got the chills.”
“We kind of learned to play catch together,” Parker added. “So doing it in the game, made it that much better.”
To understand the moment better, let’s go back to the boys’ upbringing in Riverton, Utah.
And to the man who taught them how to play catch and instilled a love of football.
“My dad was my coach in basketball, baseball, football, all of them,” Brock said. “And it wasn’t just the games. It was practices, too. Then we’d go home and it was more football. It was NFL on Sundays and college on Saturdays.”
But in 2013, they lost their father. They lost their coach. And their biggest fan.
Cory Proulx passed away suddenly following complications with surgery that led to a pulmonary embolism. Brock and Parker’s world turned upside down.
But it was sports and their teammates that helped them through a tough time.
“The year after he died we dedicated that season to him,” Parker said of his youth team in Utah. “And we went all the way to state. After we won, we said, ‘For coach Proulx’ to break down the huddle. It was really nice to hear that and it helped a lot.”
Their mother, Jeri, knew the life lessons Cory taught his sons would help them cope with the loss.
“Sports were really important to them and they loved it,” she said. “And I think it was something that brought them closer to their dad and to each other.
“Cory was really, really particular about sportsmanship and every single game and practice that they thank all of their coaches, thank the ref. More so than being athletes, that’s probably the best thing they learned from him, is to be appreciative of those around them.”
More changes came a few years later. Jeri found love again. In 2016, she married Big Sandy rancher Rich Roth and her, Parker and Brock moved to central Montana to live with Rich and his two children, Ryan and Jessica.
The boys were in for some culture shock. Moving from a suburb of Salt Lake City to a small town with a population of less than 600 was an entirely new experience.
“The graduating class at my old school was about 1,200 kids,” laughed Brock. “Now we have 12.”
Combining two families can come with growing pains, especially when the kids are of similar ages. Ryan wasn’t too sure what to think about his new siblings at first.
“I was kind of mad,” Ryan admitted. “I was jealous because they’re coming in and they’re new and they’re good at sports and extremely athletic.”
But sports can be a great icebreaker. And the boys found they shared similar passions and the same competitive nature. It wasn’t long before the two families became one big family.
“It’s awesome,” Ryan said. “Because they’re part of the team now, they’re part of my family and they’re part of the community.”
For Rich and Jeri, it’s been a blessing to watch strangers become teammates, become brothers.
“We’ve just been really lucky that they have learned to love each other and we’ve worked really hard at it,” Rich said. “I have to give the kids credit, they’ve worked really hard. They’ve shared rooms and shared stories, but the cool thing is that coming from two opposite ends of the spectrum, so to speak, they were really able to find common ground. I guarantee 20 years from now, we’re going to be the same great, strong family and I’m so excited about that. That’s what they’ve really learned in this.”
And that brings us back to the field. Football has been a constant for Parker, Brock and Ryan. And with each snap, each game, each practice and each play – Jeri and Rich are on the sidelines cheering them on, with huge smiles and proud stares.
But they’re not the only ones smiling.
When Parker and Brock were little, Cory always joked to Jeri that one would be a quarterback and one would be a receiver.
And this season his prediction came true.
Brock and Parker are helping lead the talented Pioneer team to a strong showing in the 6-Man North. The Pioneers are 2-2 this season, with their two losses coming to powerhouse programs Westby-Grenora and Geraldine-Highwood. The brothers have connected several times this season, including twice for touchdowns against the MonDak Thunder.
“We had goal sheets at the beginning of this year and one of my goals on the very bottom was, ‘Proulx-to-Proulx touchdown,’” Brock said. “And I was really, really hoping that would happen. But I didn’t think it would happen that quickly. I’m really glad it did, because it definitely meant a lot.”
Jeri and Rich ride the wave of emotions of the game on the sideline just as much as their boys do. And they looked at each other with a knowing glance once the two siblings connected.
“I got all teary eyed and silly but Rich had goosebumps on,” Jeri said. “He told me that was exactly what Cory was talking about. It was pretty emotional.”
The Proulx boys might find themselves in a new city, with a new family and new teammates. But Big Sandy is home now. And that’s exactly the way everyone in the family likes it.
“It’s just cool for us as parents to just see how they’ve really matured and grown,” Rich said. “And the little kids look up to them. It’s amazing.”
“I think Cory would just be really proud of them,” Jeri added. “They went through some pretty tough adversity and they stayed faithful, they stayed positive and supportive of each other and me and what was going to be best for our family. And that’s a reason to be proud.”