Nick Ehli

Managing Editor, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Bozeman, MT

[MT-E 0201]

I was at the Billings Gazette and I was – I got wind of a – my primary beat was crime and justice, I covered a lot of courtrooms and police stations, but I got wind of the story in a small town of Custer, Mont. It’s a little farming community outside of Billings about maybe an hour. And this was this little community that was trying to start up a football team. And in Montana we have six-man football. There’s not enough kids for 11-man football, and so there are schools that play eight-man football and six-man football. The really small schools play six-man football.

And Custer – they were just doing all these things to try to make this happen. They had a rancher that donated the edge of the beet field that they were trying to grow grass on. They had a coach who donated all his time, and he just likes football. And they had these kids that wanted to play. And it was really it took this kind of community’s Herculean effort to make this happen of letting these six kids come play football on Saturdays and what it meant to the small town. That they were there every Saturday. There wasn’t a lot of people, but they were there – it was bringing together all the small towns.

And so I got great access with the coach of this team. I let him know I was interested in telling the story, kind of before really their first game got played. And so I convinced my editor it was a good story. I think he went, “Sports? Really? OK.”

So I did it. I snuck out of the newsroom when I could and went down to Custer and spent time with this team. And it was really, for me, a great narrative with these kids going through this. Just all these different people that had come together for this – to make this happen.

And I guess the coolest part about that is I went down to watch a game after the story had run. And it was all great in [that] these kids had they gone on and had a good season and that was just on the side to what the story was about, but this elderly woman came up and said. “You’re the man who wrote the story, right?”

For Custer to be covered in The Billings Gazette was a big deal to begin with, but that it was this nice story about their community. I said, “Yeah.” And I’m thinking – this could go bad. Did she like the story? Did she not like the story?

And her comment was – she goes – I seen my husband cry on only a couple occasions in his entire life – he was an elderly rancher from Custer. And she goes – but he cried when he read that story. And I thought, well, that’s – that was pretty cool.