By Ryan Divish
The look on Troy Purcell's face was one of total discomfort. Kind of like the way a nun might look at a Britney Spears concert. As he stood there watching the community pep rally Thursday night at Blue Pony Stadium, you could tell that the Blue Pony head coach didn't necessarily want to be there and he wasn't having the greatest of times.
Don't get Purcell wrong, anyone who has met him knows he bleeds Pony Blue and White. After most games, he looks as if he has just played the entire 48 minutes himself. If you watch him closely on the sidelines you understand why. There is an intensity that can be felt in the stands. He can't sit still. He moves and paces, he teaches and scolds, he relishes every good play and anguishes in every mistake. He lives the game. Last Saturday in the celebration following the Ponies' victory over Miles City, Purcell gave out more hugs and high fives than 20 politicians combined.
Above all else, Purcell appreciates the support of the parents, fans and community. He would never have said no to the rally, or any other thing that might help fire up the fans or his team for Saturday's Class A State Championship game.
But as he stood there watching Mayor Bob Rice read a proclamation that made today Blue Pony victory day, Purcell stared intently at his players gauging their every reaction. He had said earlier he didn't know exactly what he would say to the crowd. But with every passing minute of Rice's speech, Purcell's expression began to change from one of total discomfort to total focus. The same intense look that he greets his players with on game days would greet the fans at the rally.
He knew what he was going to say to the crowd. He knew what he had to say to his players.
After politely thanking the fans for showing up and the cheerleaders for all of their support. Purcell's voice grew deeper and its volume louder. It was time to get his message across. He began to move as he talked, back and forth in front of the crowd and the team. He wasn't pacing, he was stalking the sideline. You almost felt sorry for the microphone he was gripping it so hard.
He talked fast and he talked for a while, but his message was very simple thanks for the nice rally, but we haven't won anything yet.
It's a double edged sword facing coaches and teams playing in state championship games. How do you enjoy the fact that you're playing for the state title while still remembering that the object is to win the game?
"This is all great but today isn't our day to be rah-rah," Purcell told the crowd. "Friday night's practice is our night to be rah-rah. We're about being focused on the game until then. When you see our guys in school, they might not notice you're talking to them that's how focused they're going to be."
This is uncharted water for Purcell, who hasn't coached in a state championship game. He knows he isn't guaranteed to be back every year, so he wants to his first state championship appearance to also be his first state championship win.
That's why he would rather save all of the cheering and celebrations for after the game. Call it unfinished business if you want, but Purcell doesn't want his team to be just satisfied with getting to the state title game.
It's not like this doesn't happen on a regular basis. Teams work so hard to get to the state title game that sometimes they feel that just making it there is a good enough accomplishment.
But it isn't for Purcell and his Ponies. After the season, 10 teams will be able to say they played in the state championship, but only five will be able to call themselves champions.
Purcell wants to be one of those five teams. He and his players didn't sweat through two-a-days, rally to win the Central A conference title after losing their first two games of the season and play brilliantly during the playoffs to just make an appearance in the championship. They want to win the whole damn thing.
It's what separates champions from other teams. To maintain focus on the game while a three ring-circus is going on around them. Because ultimately that's what all of the hoopla and cheering is about the game.
A coach once said, "A goal is a dream with a deadline."
At the beginning of the year, Purcell and his team set goals that they want to achieve during the season. They started with small things like winning all their home games. The goals grew bigger to making the playoffs, to winning the Central A conference and finally winning the state championship. So far they have accomplished most of those goals with the final one remaining.
With the deadline a day away, Purcell isn't about to let his players forget they can achieve their ultimate goal and their biggest dream by winning, not appearing in, the Class A state championship.