Chris Peterson Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
In just three days, Havre High School football players Tanner Donovan, Evan Hinebauch and Michael Erickson will become part of two long-standing traditions when they play in the 61st annual Montana East-West Shrine Game in Great Falls. Donovan, Hinebauch and Erickson will be a part of the longest-running high school all-star football game in the history of the United States. But just as importantly, they will follow in the footsteps of many Blue Pony greats that have participated in the historic game. With the selection of Donovan, Hinebauch and Erickson, the Ponies will be represented in the shrine game for the 49th time, with the first player being Mark Kato, who was the co-captain of East team in the first game ever played back in 1947. Simply by looking at the representation of Blue Ponies in the game, the numbers show how consistently dominant Havre football has been over the course of the last 61 years. Havre High has had a total of 96 different players play in the game, and only once in the lengthy history of the game 1973 and 1974 did the Blue Ponies go consecutive years without a player representing them in the game. The Ponies’ longest consecutive streak with a player representing them in the game is an amazing 24 years. The streak started in 1978 with the spectacular class of Dave Cobb, Ken Klundt, Bob Stiler, Jesse Sandy and David Hergeshoimer. It ended in 2001 with former standout lineman and current member of the Blue Pony coaching staff Matt Sasaki. HHS also had a streak of eight consecutive years with a player in the shrine game, from 1956-1963, as well as a streak of six consecutive years with a representative, from 1967-1972. The 1978 class of Blue Ponies in the shrine game is tied for the biggest with the class from 1980, which also consisted of five players in Mark Elliot, Jim “Bo” Evans, Darryl Peterson, Tim Wynne and Craig Jappe. Three other classes came close to matching the classes of 1979 and 1980, as the classes of 1956 and 1960 each had four representatives apiece, as well as the class of 2005, which was the last Blue Pony team to win a Class A state football championship. The state championship class of 2005 was made up of Gary Wagner, who also made history that year by winning the game’s Most Valuable Player award, Marc Mariani, Coda Tchida and Ted Wells. One odd statistic about Havre players in the shrine game is that the three state championships teams prior to 2005 only got one player into the game from those teams. Frank “Bucky” May was the only representative from the 1959 state championship team, Denny Langston was the lone representative from the 1961 state championship team and in 1970, the only Blue Pony to be selected to the East squad was Jim Catt. However, the 1961 Shrine game did feature one local player that went onto to be as good a player as the Hi-Line as ever seen his name was Mike Tilleman. Tilleman represented the Chinook Sugarbeeters on the East team and is one of just a handful of players in the history of the Montana East-West Shrine Game to play in the National Football League. Tilleman was a pro bowl player that spent time with New Orleans Saints, the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons during his illustrious career. In fact, the Tilleman family and the Shrine Game has almost gone hand-inhand over the years. The only other Hi-Line player to play in the game that went onto an NFL career after playing in the Shrine Game was Casey Fitzsimmons of Chester, who played in the game back in 1999 and is currently a member of the Detroit Lions. The list of Havre High players that played in the Shrine game and then went on to play for either the University of Montana or Montana State University is noteworthy. The players that went onto play for the Grizzlies include Mariani (2005), Ryan Joy (1995), Tim Wynne (1980), Dick Wright (1954) and Paul Enochson (1953). The former Blue Ponies in the Shrine Game that moved on to MSU are Erickson (2007), Dick McLean (1967) and James McLeod (1956). And arguably two of the most successful Ponies to play in the Shrine Game were Matt Kegel (1999) and Lee Tilleman (1987), who both went on to play Division 1-A college football for Washington State University. Of course, the aformentioned Blue Pony and Hi-Line greats are just a few of the many that have proudly represented Havre in the classic all-star game. It would take an entire page to mention every great player who has passed through Blue Pony stadium an onto the Memorial Stadium Field in Great Falls. But if you are a football fan, and more importantly a fan of Blue Pony football, don’t dismiss the Shrine Game as just another meaningless allstar game, because it is much more than that.