By Kim Staudinger
While playing high school football is a dream for many young boys growing up, accomplishing that dream is another story.
And traveling nearly 8,700 miles to play that sport is all but unfathomable. Now for Havre High seniors Kevin Harada and Troy Toner, the dream is coming true.
Harada, a 5-foot-10, 198-pound running back/linebacker, and Toner, a 6-foot-1, 203-pound offensive and defensive lineman, were selected by International Sports Specialists, Inc. to participate in the 14th Annual Novotel Beachcomber Down Under Bowl in Australia.
Harada and Toner will leave from Helena June 21 and will return to the states July 3.
The trip, while devoted mostly to playing football, also has some time allotted for relaxation. The teams will spend one day in Sydney and seven days and seven nights in Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast. On the return trip, the squad will also spend three days and three nights in Honolulu, Hawaii. The team's practices and games will be in Surfer's Paradise.
The trip from the states to Australia is one of the longest non-stop flights in the world at 15 hours, Harada said. The athletes will enjoy four movies and three meals on the flight, only to arrive in Sydney in the dead of winter. While that usually means frigid temperatures for Montanans, the coolest temperature in Australia is around 75 degrees.
To be eligible for the team, athletes are required to have graduated from high school. The team consists of athletes from all four classes AA, A, B and C in Montana. Helena High coach Tony Arntson will coach the team. Arntson will hold a practice in Helena before the team flies out.
"They expect you to come in conditioned," Toner said.
Athletes from all 50 states will compete in the Down Under Bowl.
"It's an honor. Football is their biggest sport," Harada, who will continue his football career at Rocky Mountain College in the fall, said. "They just really enjoy American football."
Montana has won the Bowl the last seven years, Harada said.
"Montana's very highly respected down there," he continued.
The team will have its chance to defend the streak, beginning with Texas in its first game and, with a win, will face the winner of the Ohio-California game.
"I'm really excited to go there," Harada said. "It's an honor and a trip of a lifetime and we will be representing Havre."
"I think it's a chance of a lifetime. It's been a place I've always wanted to go to," said Toner, who will attend Montana State University in Bozeman next fall but will not play football. "It's basically my last one hurrah in organized football."
Other Havre athletes such as Nate Baltrusch have made the trip in previous years. Harada said Baltrusch told him as a sophomore to "do it at all costs."
All costs, in this case, is nearly $3,500 per athlete. The expense includes airfare, hotel, two meals a day and some equipment. Toner and Harada will use some of their old high school equipment like their helmets and pads.
Other miscellaneous expenses such as insurance, passports and other meals must be paid for out of pocket. To help defray some of the expense, Harada and Toner plan to look for sponsors in town and will also do some fund raising.
"This is the biggest football tournament outside the U.S. for high school football," Harada said, noting 12,000 to 15,000 people attend the games, mostly those from Australia. "The stadium is huge. We will get to play on the same type of turf as the Grizzlies do. It helps to get a picture of college football."
Other sports such as tennis, swimming, basketball and cheerleading, along with others, are also represented at different times throughout the summer in Australia.