By Kyle Spurr, UM News Service
MISSOULA – Forestry students and volunteers spent the week transforming the University of Montana’s Schreiber Gym into a century-old logging town for the 104th Foresters’ Ball.
Work began on Monday with the students laying wooden floors in the empty gymnasium. Then came the freshly cut logs and chainsaws used to support false fronts of a saloon, chapel, prison and other buildings. Amidst the excitement, UM forestry student Jaiden Stansberry took a moment to acknowledge the transformation and return of the revered campus tradition.
Stansberry, a junior who grew up in Yosemite National Park, had no idea what to expect since the Foresters’ Ball has been canceled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only the senior class remembers the 103rd ball in February 2020.
“Most of us have never gone to one, so it’s just this idea of a ball,” Stansberry said. “But now to actually put it together, it’s been super exciting to see it fall into place.”
This year’s ball is open to the public and will take place on Friday and Saturday 3-4. February at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online. The topic is “Burnin’ Ground and Swingin’ Around!” and clothing includes flannels, jeans, boots, overalls and cowboy hats.
Mason Banks, a senior forestry student and “chief pusher” of the Foresters’ Ball Committee, said he feels a responsibility to bring the ball back. If it hadn’t been for all the hard work this year, the tradition could have died, he said. The Rangers’ Ball dates back to 1915 and was only canceled for two years during World War II and the last two years due to the pandemic.
“I don’t think there’s any other school with a tradition like that,” Banks said. “We truly owe it to those who came before us to get it right and celebrate this celebration.”
The Foresters’ Ball is also a fundraiser for students at the WA Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. The money raised goes to scholarships for forestry students.
“I helped out as a freshman and got a scholarship that helped me stay in college,” Banks said. “That’s the goal for every single ball, to reward those who helped build it.”
Eric Hoberg, a UM Forestry graduate and coach of the UM Woodman team, knows firsthand how hard students work each year to create the ball. Hoberg served on the Foresters’ Ball committee as a student until graduating in 2006 and has been on board ever since.
Hoberg was at the Schreiber Gym every day this week and helped set it up. Sharing his two decades of experience, he reminds students that once the doors open on Friday night, their efforts will pay off. Hoberg hopes the forestry students will find some time to enjoy it themselves.
“It’s quite common to work to the end of the ball to get things done,” Hoberg said. “Often you just go to your truck, have a snack, change your shirt and go back inside. But at the same time, it still has something to do with when all the lights are out and the band gets up and it’s all set.”
The Foresters’ Ball is hosted by forestry students but is intended for the general public and the entire UM community. Ahead of this year’s ball, UM alumni from all majors reached out to student organizers to hear how much the event means to them. Some have shared stories of meeting their future spouses at the prom or now having their own children attend.
Sonny Capece, a UM alumnus who graduated with a degree in political science in 2019, said he will never forget going to the ball for the first time as a freshman. He had just moved to Montana from Tallahassee, Florida.
“I fell in love with the whole thing,” Capece said. “It was probably the most unique event in a university setting that I have ever experienced.”
After that night, Capece decided to join the UM Forestry Club, eventually becoming treasurer on the Foresters’ Ball committee. The experience of raising funds and organizing the ball is an incredible experiential learning experience, he said. Capece uses those skills today as State Secretary to Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke.
“It was really good training,” Capece said. “That’s all I do now is organize big, high-profile events with the government.”
At the end of the first day of construction on Monday, Stansberry and her forestry classmates began imagining the sphere coming to life. You could see where people were wrongly getting married or divorced in the chapel, having a drink in the beer garden, or exploring past balls in a museum.
To design the ball this year, the students drew on black-and-white photos and historical notes written decades ago. Now that the ball returns, they hope to write a chapter of their own.
“To be able to bring to life a tradition that’s been there for 100 years is something spectacular,” said Stansberry. “I’m excited to see how people change it over the next few years and what they’re doing to make it bigger and better.”
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM Director of Strategic Communications, 406-243-5659, [email protected]