Branson, Colorado, is more like a village than a town.
With a population of about 100, on a Friday night in the fall, four times that number line the Branson High School football field.
“I still consider it my baby,” says Brad Caldwell, Branson School District Superintendent and the guy who quite literally built Branson football.
“At the urging of three young men, they said it would sure be nice if we could play football,” says Caldwell. “The boys picked up load after load of rocks and we dug up cactus and thistles. It was all hand work. We even tilled it with a little garden tiller.”
In 2014, Caldwell and a few students put in more than 100 hours of manual labor to construct Branson’s field. It wasn’t much of a looker, but it was theirs.
“I got used to it,” says Koy Pickard, a junior member of the Branson football team. “It toughened me up mentally and physically, and that was an advantage.”
But then, the springs that supply Branson and its surrounding communities with water dried up. Water restrictions were put in place, and that meant they were no longer allowed to water the field.
The field lost a lot of its grass, becoming a dusty patch of earth and cactus. Opposing programs said they’d no longer travel to Branson to play football.
“That broke my heart,” says Caldwell. “I thought to myself, ‘Toughen up guys. So, you’re playing on a pasture. You can do this.’”
“We all live in kind of the same environment,” says Fernando Gonzalez, another junior football player. “It feels very weird getting singled out.”
“It kind of ticked me off. There’s the whole chip-on-the-shoulder thing,” says Brody Doherty, a fellow junior football player. “If you’re not tough enough to come out and play the way we play then you don’t deserve to play us at all.”
“I was a little offended, a little mad, a little angry,” says Brad Doherty, Branson’s athletic director. “I decided to let it go and say, hey, this is an opportunity to really make something happen.”
Forged in the mud and muck, the Bearcats summoned their resolve — seeking a solution rather than wallowing in adversity.
They started a fundraiser – a new-age version of Mr. Caldwell’s hundred hours of labor – to build a new turf field.
“Our story is one of such perseverance and overcoming the tough times we’re in,” says Brody Doherty. “This is a kind of thing where the community is bouncing back, and the feeling of community is something that people can gather around and support.”
“If you tell a great story, a true story, an authentic one, people are going to resonate with that and open up their hearts to you,” says Brad Doherty.
They’re now reaching out to the Colorado community at large, hoping to make every inch count.
“It would honestly be crazy because, you know, we’re a small school, to know that we got our story out there to all these people. If we could make this happen, that would be an insane feeling,” says Isaac Provost, a junior football player.