The power of sports in a small town

I moved to Madison County at the end of high school football season three years ago. By the time I was settled in at the paper and ready to go out on assignment, the Ennis Mustangs football team was the only county team still left in the playoffs.

It was three years ago. All avid Mustang fans will remember how that season ended – in a state championship. From the team’s opening drive to the final seconds of the game, the Ennis Mustangs never trailed the Wibaux Longhorns in the Class C 8-man State Championship game on Nov. 23, 2013. It was Ennis football’s first championship appearance in 30 years, and their first win in 31.

Last weekend, they did it again. After defeating the Wibaux Longhorns two weekends ago, the Mustangs earned a trip to the championship. On Saturday, I joined a long caravan of Madison County plates leaving Ennis and heading northwest to Charlo, where the game took place.

The number of Mustang fans rivaled those who came to cheer on the Charlo Vikings – the four hour drive to and from the game was not a deterrent.

It’s fun to cheer for something. To truly invest time and emotions in a cause. Sometimes, that cause is high school sports. Sporting events are great places for rural communities to congregate, and in a small town where nearly everyone knows one another, it’s fun to cheer for kids you watched grow up, or your friend’s son.

My high school of nearly 1,000 students was all about athletics. Our football, volleyball, basketball and soccer programs made frequent forays into post-season play. Our football and track facility was a state-of-the art stadium, complete with college-quality bleachers and concessions. Games were social events for the student body, but other than athletes’ parents, not many adults showed up. And we never saw elementary or junior high kids around.

In rural communities like those in Madison County, a game is more than a place for underclassmen to hang out. Alumni, young families, business owners, seniors and folks who have no school affiliation show up to cheer on the hometown team.

Cheers to all Madison County teams on a great season! Thanks for giving us small town residents something to believe in.

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