P O W E L L, W y o. - For the past nine years, Morgan Tyree has spent his autumn weekends traveling to small-town high school football games in Montana and Wyoming. A collection of 43 photographs from those travels are displayed Tuesday, Jan. 2, through Monday, Jan. 29, in the SinClair Gallery at Northwest College in Powell.
The images in "Small Town High School Football" capture the full spectrum of the six- and eight-man experience - from team runs during practice sessions and fan seating accommodations on the grassy slope of a hill next to the playing field, to the gritty action of the big game itself and the incredible mountain vistas that accompany so many small-town contests in the West.
Each image is accompanied by a state map showing where the photograph was taken and background information about the scene. Many times the narrative helps the viewer see the differences between small-town football and what the game has morphed into at the larger high school, college and professional levels.
Acknowledging his "football-minded upbringing" in Akron, Ohio, Tyree explains that for him, following small-town football is something akin to hiking down the Grand Canyon instead of just viewing it from a tourist point on top - it's one way to get a richer experience living in Wyoming and Montana.
"There's more to Wyoming and Montana than standing in a blue ribbon trout stream with a fly rod or hiking through a tranquil area of the Bob Marshall Wilderness," Tyree said. "And on an autumn Saturday afternoon (Friday night too in some towns), you'll find me in Highwood, Belfry, Meeteetse or Custer where small-town high school football folds into the landscape like sugar in your coffee. Perhaps the game isn't as perfect as the NFL (National Football League), but the scenario is just as perfect as standing in one of those blue ribbon streams."
Tyree keeps a blog about his football experiences where players, parents and fans often check in to see what he caught or thought of their big game, to offer their appreciation for his work, and sometimes to challenge him about it. As a testament to his fascination with the sport, Tyree's blog entries don't end just because the season does - his latest post is dated Dec. 4, 2006, and offers his wife's picks for Wyoming/Montana small-town football games' best overall concession stand, it'll-cost-you-an-arm-&-a-leg concession stand, best cheeseburger and needs-more-work popcorn, among others.
His visual explorations of small-town football were exhibited in 2004 at the Massillon Museum in Ohio, less than a dozen miles from the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton (sometimes referred to as the cradle of high school football). They've also been viewed at Texas A&M University at College Station, Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne and the Center for Fine Art Photography in Denver, Colo., to name a few.
The Beartooth Times published a photo essay of his images in 2004. Most recently, his work was featured in an eight-page spread in "Referee" magazine. During the coming year, it will appear in "Montana Quarterly" and at the Western Heritage Center.
When he's not burning the road to get to a football game, Tyree spends his weekdays in the classroom as an assistant professor of graphic arts and printing at Northwest College.
The SinClair Gallery at Northwest College is located in the Orendorff Building at 231 W. 6th St. in Powell. It's open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. "Small Town High School Football" hangs there through Monday, Jan. 29. Admission is free.