Small-town Montana high school football rivalries can get pretty intense. And not just among players.

Then the towns and school enrollments get smaller. And smaller. And eventually neighboring schools, while not always neighborly and not always that neighboring, need to merge and coexist if they want to have a football program at all.

More hyphens get used (Chester-Joplin-Inverness, Denton-Geyser-Stanford-Grass Range-Winnett). Or regional landmarks or geographical areas rather than town names identify the programs (Clark Fork, MonDak). And some excellent nicknames get dropped in the name of neutrality. Pity the Penguins. Bon Voyage, Bats.

But by pooling resources and driving lots of extra miles just to practice, at least the kids still get to play football, finding enough players to field a team. And reluctantly or otherwise, everybody has been willing to make it work under the auspices of the Montana High School Association.

Until now.

Controversy has arisen over a decision by the MHSA concerning the Drummond/Philipsburg 8-man football co-op program, known as the Flint Creek Titans. It was reported by the online publication and the Flint Creek Courier newspaper that the Montana High School Association has denied the team a three-year extension request to continue as a co-op program. The newspaper obtained the letter sent by the MHSA to the schools.

The main reason given for denying the request focused on estimated player participation. The estimated number of students that would be participating on the co‐op team (not necessarily an indicator that enrollment is increasing) over the next two seasons would be 26 and 29, respectively. The average size of an 8‐player football roster in Montana is 21.

School officials are taking the MHSA to task, pointing out that student body size isn't thriving just because a few more kids want to come out for football. The program has a pretty solid reputation and some Montana state title hardware to show for their efforts from 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Philipsburg school officials are especially concerned, suggesting that the Prospectors would struggle to field even a six-man team should the co-op extension not be granted.

The Flint Creek co-op can, and will, appeal the decision at an MHSA Executive Board Meeting in Missoula on January 14.

It is a public hearing and according to a school official quoted in the Flint Creek Courier article, "I do hope that the MHSA is prepared to have a large meeting room because there could quite possibly be a large number of community members from Drummond and Philipsburg filling that meeting room."

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