Monte leatherheads remember the old grandstand

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Bud Easter, left, and Sherman Esses hold up a plaque for when the 1944 championship football team went into the Montesano High School Hall of Fame. Easter and Esses played in the first game ever to be played in front of the original grandstand at Rottle Field.
Bud Easter, left, and Sherman Esses take a few moments to test out the new grandstand at Rottle Field.
Bud Easter, left, and Sherman Esses admire the new grandstand at Rottle Field.

When the Montesano High School football team opens up the season against Black Hills on Sept. 5 for the first home game with the newly constructed grandstand at Rottle Field. It will be a little bit different from the last time the Bulldogs first played in front of a new grandstand on the site.

Students won’t have to be excused from class to go to the game, as it will be played in the evening and the contest will be the first game of the season instead of the rivalry game against Elma. But the biggest difference may be that the helmets won’t be made of leather this time around.

The Bulldogs first played a game in front of the grandstand at Rottle Field, then known as Montesano High School Stadium, back on Oct. 2, 1942, when Montesano played Elma in an East County rivalry that was then billed as “the big contest of the year.” Elma had been on an eight-year, 16-game winning streak against Montesano and hundreds turned out to see if the Bulldogs could open up the new facility with an upset.

Elma scored first when Earl Robinson intercepted a pass from Monte quarterback Dick Brownlee on the 1-yard line, but the Eagles didn’t convert the extra point. Down 6-0, the Bulldogs tried a little trickery with a reverse at the 40-yard line and Brownlee would sprint all the way to the 6-yard line. Monte flanker Charles Augustine scored the touchdown to tie the game and the Bulldogs were able to convert the extra point to win the game, 7-6.

Not many people are still around who even attended the game, but on Monday, two players who were on the field that day met at the new facility to reminisce about what it was like to play in front of the old grandstand that was burned down on to the ground by a fire in September of 2012.

Fred “Bud” Easter and Sherman Esses were both sophomores when the Bulldogs broke the Eagles’ winning streak in 1942. Easter was the starting right end that day, playing what would now be called wide receiver on offense and end on the defensive side as well.

“We didn’t have an offensive and a defensive team,” Easter said. “A lot of fellas played both sides.”

Even though he would start the next game, against Chehalis, Esses came off the bench to play some in the contest. Both Easter and Esses had unique skills to be able to see playing time early in their careers.

“Sherman was a heck of a player,” Easter said. “He was fast and shifty.”

“Bud had finesse and knew how to figure things out and was a great all-around athlete,” Esses said.

While the memories from their senior season in 1944, when they went undefeated and won the championship, burn brighter, they can still recall what it was like to suit up before taking the field for the first time at now Rottle Field.

“Anything we got was a big deal in those days,” Easter said of the grandstand. “The helmets were leather, no mouthpieces, no face guards. You just took it on the chin.”

The grandstand and the field began as a project of the Works Progress Administration in 1938. Crews replaced the deep gully and several houses that occupied the space with a state-of-the-art facility at a total cost to the school district of $12,000. In 1941, the Bulldogs had played at Vessey Field, with fans standing around the field, but hundreds poured into the new facility in 1942. Stores and businesses closed early and the Chamber of Commerce adjourned a meeting early just to be able to attend the game. For Easter and Esses however, their concentration was solely on the field.

“I don’t think it made that much difference to me whether we had a grandstand or not,” Easter said. “I was just interested in the game.”

“I didn’t even know anybody was in the stands,” Esses said jokingly.

World War II created a different atmosphere for those playing and attending the game in 1942. Easter said many of the seniors that would have been on the team that year were drafted and that created openings for both him and Esses to play. Many of the seniors over the following two years missed their final season in a Bulldog uniform to wear a military uniform, including Augustine, who missed his senior season and the championship in 1944.

Easter and Esses were able to play out their careers and have stayed in Montesano to raise another generation of Bulldogs and even watch some of their grandchildren put on the maroon and grey. While Easter and Esses still have fond memories from their own playing days, they are glad the future generations will have a first-rate facility

“It would be wonderful to have a facility like this, but we didn’t have it too bad,” Esses said. “I was happy.”

An open house for the grandstand at Rottle Field will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 28. Fans will get their first chance to tour the entire facility from the press box down to the storage areas before the Bulldogs host a jamboree at 6 p.m. on Aug. 29. The first football game since the grandstand was completed will be held the following Friday, when Monte takes on Black Hills at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.