BIG TIMBER and MISSOULA – Montana boasts some fierce athletic rivalries with the likes of Montana and Montana State, Carroll College and Montana Tech and especially on the high school front where programs like Billings Central and Laurel often contend for conference and state titles.
But in times of need, the Treasure State often sees competitors become companions, supporting a cause at a moment’s notice.
When Florence junior Kyler Alm collapsed on the sidelines during the Falcons’ regular-season finale against rival Missoula Loyola on Oct. 19, a moment that led to a diagnosis of a subdural hematoma, a collection of blood between the covering of the brain and the surface of the brain, considered among the deadliest of head injuries according to www.Medlineplus.gov, the news quickly spread across Montana and led to a chain reaction of kindness.
Alm spent a few days in intensive care before being transferred to a regular room at a Missoula hospital, allowing his Falcon teammates to visit. But they weren’t the only ones who stopped by.
“We all felt bad, like, we felt like we did something wrong,” said Missoula Loyola quarterback Blake Danielson. “But later we learned it had been building for weeks and nobody caught it. It’s kind of an eye-opener because it could happen to any of us, but it’s a sad thing what happened.”
Danielson brainstormed ways to help and, along with his family, spearheaded a plan to visit Alm in the hospital while bringing gift cards and monetary donations for the Alm family to put toward things like food or medical bills.
“Even though it’s a rivalry game, it’s still important to show sportsmanship. He’s a really, really good player. We hope he gets better,” Danielson said. “We would like to play him next year. Something like that is super scary in a football game. You just never expect it, but it’s always there and could happen to anybody.”
“When it comes down to it, you feel for the kids. None of that rivalry matters when it’s about a kid,” said Loyola quarterback and defensive back Nick Mitzel. “Kyler Alm, he’s such an exceptional athlete and such a good kid. We know that. I felt it and the whole team did. You feel sorry because you never want to see anyone get hurt, but especially a kid of his caliber. You never want to see that. At the end of the day, that rivalry doesn’t matter if something like that happens, and even if not, there’s always a mutual respect between the teams because no matter how good each team is that year, they always play the hardest. We always give each other each other’s best game because it’s an awesome rivalry. It’s one we get to cherish, one game we look forward to every single year.”
Few understand respect in rivalries better than coaches, but Loyola’s Todd Hughes beamed with an extra sense of pride after the sportsmanship and kindness displayed by his Rams.
“Football is a fraternity and, yes, on game day and the stuff leading up to it, it’s a rivalry and you want to go out there and beat them, this and that, show them what you’ve got, but it’s still a fraternity. It’s a brotherhood,” Hughes said. “They know what it takes to get out here week in and week out, every single night, all the way from the freshmen, well, maybe the freshmen don’t yet, but they’re learning it, all the way to our seniors. Any time you have that happen on a football field it’s scary. It kind of brings a reality to what we do. The kids took it upon themselves, we wanted to make him known that he’s part of the football fraternity, football brotherhood, no matter where you’re at.”
Kyler Alm was released from the hospital the following week, resting and healing in his own bed while his teammates prepared for the opening round of the Class B playoffs. The news of his injury quickly reached the halls of their opponent, the Big Timber Sheepherders, where players once again wanted to help.
“I actually heard about it from our football players, they mentioned it to me and they said, ‘We wish there was something we could do about it.’ I said, ‘Well, we could arrange,’ we usually do things like hat days, where the kids pay to wear a hat for the day, and I said, ‘We can collect money like that,’” said Sweet Grass County High School athletic director Barry Snodgrass. “They said, ‘OK. Can we do that for a couple days?’ ‘Sure, we’ll do it Thursday and Friday before the game.’ But then they said, ‘It would be cool if we can get the community involved, too,’ so I said, ‘OK.’ We have a school Facebook page, so I put it out on that and then there’s another site called the Big Timber Buzz that people get on and I put it on both of those.
“All of a sudden we had kids coming in on Thursday morning dropping $20 and $50 into the bucket from their families. People came in and wrote checks for them. We raised quite a bit of money for them in the two days, which was pretty awesome.”
All the while, the Alm family was being convinced to attend that Oct. 27 playoff game, where Kyler was called to midfield at halftime and Big Timber players presented more than $1,000 for medical bills.
“It was an exceptional moment. To have him walk out on the field with his dad and mom, to come out there, there weren’t a lot of dry eyes in that small huddle that was out there,” said Snodgrass. “Our senior boys walked out there with me to present it to him, and as he got out there he said, ‘OK, guys, you have to be gentle, but I want to hug each and every one of you.’ The boys came around, hugged him and said to get better, get well, wished him speedy recovery. I mentioned, ‘Hey, we want you to take care of yourself so we can possibly see you out there next year,’ because he’s just a junior. His dad goes, ‘We’ll have to see about that.’ Trying to protect his kid and I understand that. Great family, very appreciative. We had a bunch of community members come over from Florence and thank us and that was awesome. To come from the kids, their idea, that’s the best part of the whole thing.”
Well wishes continue to pour in from every corner of Montana, many in the form of text, cards and social media messages, while Kyler Alm attempts to overcome the effects of his injury. A fine football player and wrestler, his athletic future next season is uncertain, but Montana’s willingness to rise to the occasion is anything but.
“That’s definitely the feeling I get. Montana, being as big as it is, we’re still just a small community. We still have family members all over the state that we take care of and we see football players as an extension of family members and we want to take care of them,” said Snodgrass.
The Alm family is appreciative of the support Kyler has received since mid-October and sent the following to MTN Sports:
“We would like to thank the Missoula Loyola football program, parents, players and coaches for the poster board they signed and for all of the gift certificates and money for medical bills that were delivered to Kyler while in the hospital. We would also like to thank the players that came up for a personal visit to give Kyler their best, offering up prayers and support. Above and beyond for those student-athletes and parents.
“To the Big Timber football team and community, we would like to so thank you very, very much. We can’t believe all that they did in less than two days. Thank you, also, to the seniors for taking time out of their halftime to meet us at midfield and present us with the $1,000 check to be put toward medical bills. These are fine, fine young men. Once again above and beyond.
“We also want to thank all of the other athletes, coaches and people from Kyler’s wrestling community that reached out on social networks for their kind words and prayers.”