Less than one mile north of New Mexico is Branson, Colorado, a small ranching town where 49 residents must drive nearly 50 miles just to get gas and groceries.
The community bonds over their six-man high school football team.
Since 2014, the Branson School has combined with Kim High School, located over 40 miles away, to form a team. Six-man football includes a field that is 80 yards long and 40 yards wide – with a first down 15 yards away and a field goal worth four points.
Home-field advantage has always been a storyline in the sport, but for the Branson/Kim Bearcats, their field is anything but one.
“This might be the worst football field in America,” said head coach Adam Lucero. “If you fall at all, there's a good chance you're going to get stabbed by something, whether that be cactus or just a wood chipping.”
“It's like a big patch of dirt with barely any grass, and it's as true that if it wasn't a football field, it would be grazed on by cows,” said junior quarterback Brody Doherty.
The Branson/Kim Bearcats play six-man high school football on a field that is mostly made up of dirt, as a low water supply in the town makes it hard to sustain a grass field. (Photo: Courtesy: Branson Athletics)
The town's limited water resources contribute to the rough playing surface. Branson gets its water from five small springs that are a couple of miles away, and with no aquifers or even a creek nearby, a luscious green football field is nearly impossible to have.
From the dry dirt to dealing with gopher holes, the field has served as a badge of honor to the team and has given it a new level of mental toughness.
Opponents have not felt the same way.
During a league coaches’ call in December, one coach raised concerns over player safety, despite no major injuries ever occurring on the field, according to Brady Doherty, Branson athletic director, assistant football coach and Brody’s father.
The end result was coaches deciding they would no longer play games at Branson. Lucero said most coaches were supportive of trying to figure out ways to improve field conditions, but the decision caught him by surprise.
Branson/Kim Bearcat players have said the field is a badge of honor and they are proud to play on it (Photo: Courtesy: Branson Athletics)
With the possibility of a lost season, Brad Doherty began to think of how to save the team. He decided that a turf field was needed.
“I remember the night (Brad) texted me and he told me that the school board just approved his plan to get a turf field,” Lucero said. “I just couldn't believe we were actually going to go for it. Then he told me the dollar figures, and I thought with these small communities, it's impossible.”
The cost was $450,000.
According to the plan submitted by Doherty, the field will cost $350,000. The remaining $100,000 will be used for things such as a scoreboard, goalposts and bleachers.
In hopes of raising money for the turf, Doherty kicked off 2021 by launching the Branson Football Field Community Long-term Athletics and Wellness Project, accompanied with a video put together by Brody and his teammates that provided humor to their situation.
With no bleachers, parents and fans watch games from pop-up chairs or on the back of their pickup trucks. (Photo: Courtesy: Branson Athletics)
The video and outreach became a success: $264,949 has been raised as of Feb. 11, more than 58% of their target goal, which Doherty said has astonished residents. The funding has come from grandparents and even a sixth-grader who hopes to play on the field soon — and as far away as Maine. The plan is still in the funding stage, with the goal to receive final approval from the school board by February 15.
“I thought we would be just scraping by and begging and pleading, and there hasn't been any of that. We just tell the story, and people have been jumping out of their seats to help us out. It's been inspiring,” Brad Doherty said. “This is our home field Bearcat identity that we're fighting for.”
To preserve field conditions, Branson/Kim practice away from the field on a patch of dirt. Junior high school head coach John Cranson said it's difficult to practice without any markers on the dirt. (Photo: Courtesy: Branson Athletics)
John Cranson, head coach of the junior high football team, has two sons on the Bearcats and lives over 60 miles away from Branson, but said this project has made the communities closer than before as excitement builds around the project.
When the funding is secured, the community will take part in the construction as well because it will serve as more than just a place to play football.
“We don't have sidewalks. We have one paved road into the highway that comes through town," Brad Doherty said. “Even though it's a little tiny highway, it is not a safe place to take a walk, so we're giving our community a nice place to get out to be healthy.”
He added that a new field means that residents could worry less about their water usage and that outdoor events such as graduations and movie nights could be held.
Field construction is slated to begin in March or April, with the entire project being completed during the summer.
Said Brody Doherty: “This is a story of bouncing back and having something to gather around."
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