MISSOULA — The Flint Creek Titans live on.
The board of directors of the Montana High School Association voted unanimously 7-0 to renew the Drummond-Philipsburg soccer cooperative, also known as Flint Creek, during a board meeting at the Holiday Inn Downtown in Missoula Saturday. The meeting took place in a conference room packed with supporters of the program, including parents, coaches, residents of both cities and more.
In that vote, the board also agreed to form a committee that would consider future renewals of the cooperative, so it wasn’t just the decision of the MHSA and its chief executive, who is currently Brian Michelotti, that mattered. This panel would objectively review each situation individually and decide based on MHSA rules.
“It’s a huge relief. They’re always worried about the kids from the smaller school who might not have been able to travel or do stuff,” Flint Creek head coach Jason Ostler told MTN Sports. “I think this is the best decision to get as many kids on the field as possible. Whether they turn out to be starters or kids snapping in blowout games. Any time you can get a kid to exercise, we’re better off than if they sit at home and do nothing.”
The Flint Creek cooperative of the small towns of Drummond and Philipsburg in western Montana – both located in Granite County – have been cooperating in football since 2014. The program won 8-man soccer titles in 2017, 2018, 2018 and 2020 and finished runners-up in 2021. In 2022, the Titans fielded 27 players and won the 8-man South Central Conference title and advanced to the playoff quarterfinals.
A partnership with the MHSA is up for renewal every three years and Michelotti rejected the application for Drummond-Philipsburg as their numbers were typically above the average roster size of 21. This led to both schools filing an appeal at Saturday’s board meeting.
After hearing arguments from Drummond Superintendent Dean Phillips and Philipsburg Superintendent Tom Gates – which included power points, statistics and emotional testimonies – the MHSA board had to make a decision. John Fitzgerald — the Red Lodge’s head football coach and Class B representative on the board — introduced the first motion to extend the co-op for another year, while also proposing the idea of forming a committee to consider the formation or dissolution of co-ops in the Future.
“We’re not the biggest team, we’re not even the second-biggest team, we’re not the third-biggest team,” Phillips said while showing roster numbers from eight-man schools across the state. “Yes, we fall in the top half of those teams, but again, roster size is dependent on a lot of different factors.”
According to data provided during the meeting, Ennis led the pack in terms of roster size at 32. Belt had 29 players while Cascade had 28. The Drummond-Philipsburg co-op tied with Simms at 27 on their roster.
The catalyst behind the argument to keep the cooperative was the negative impact both communities could face, particularly Philipsburg. Without the co-op, the school is unsure if they can even field a team, even at the 6-man level.
“They drive that drive from P-Burg to Drummond (27 miles) and understand the sacrifice they make to go to practice, practice, drive back, do homework, that’s a long night, that’s one long season,” Gates told the board. “Nothing is given, it is earned in Granite County. We built it. We will keep building it.
He concluded his opening remarks with, “This won’t harm P-Burg, this will end P-Burg.”
Among the arguments put forward was the impact on the local economy, with superintendents saying businesses would be impacted without these games or if families choose to leave Philipsburg to pursue sports elsewhere. As a result, the opportunities for participation would disappear not only in football but also in other sports if players and then families left the community. That, in turn, affects the city’s population, which hurts the school, athletics and local businesses, they explained.
Fitzgerald’s motion was supported by Doug Reisig, vice president of the board and representative of the head of state. He added that the aim of the new committee, which will consider co-ops in the future, would be to “develop a rubric that is as objective as possible to help with future decisions about whether to continue or disband co-ops. “
That would include the Flint Creek cooperative again after this approved extension.
The motion then went to the vote, where it was approved by all seven board members, including Fitzgerald, Reisig, Class AA Representative, Steve Thennis of Helena High, Class A Representative, Jim Hawbaker of Billings Central, Class C Representative, Luke Fairview’s Kloker, MHSA Board Representative Krystal Zentner and Governor’s Office Representative Jimmy Patelis.
“It’s emotional. Even in the room today you could see the passion of these special people who were relatable and brought tears to their eyes and how important this is to their community,” said Michelotti. “And from the MHSA’s perspective, we understand that. We have rules to follow, but we’re human too and we understand these are tough choices.”
The announcement was met with applause from those in attendance, a moving scene for two communities that were bitter rivals and angry at the idea of a cooperative eight years ago.
“To see the two communities come together to support each other, it would have been really easy for my kid to go to Drummond to practice instead of Philipsburg to clean up, but I was 100% for it because I love the schools in Philipsburg needed the support of all of us,” said Brooks Phillips, a Drummond parent. “I think it was wonderful and amazing that the two communities came together and worked so hard together, and then last night when we were playing basketball played as rivals fought.”