For sports, Montana’s very long streets all lead to

By Jeff Welsch, Billings Gazette

Montana, it has been said, is “just a small town with very long streets.”

It is a vast intimate community unto itself where residents puff out their collective chests when a Brock Osweiler or a Tejay Van Garderen or a Christina Aragon or a cherubic collection of 12-year-old Little Leaguers from Billings makes good on the national or international stage.

What happens on the gridiron in Ekalaka matters in the cafes of Thompson Falls, Harlem and West Yellowstone. When there’s heartache on the hardwood in Saco there’s empathy in the groceries of Stevensville, Absarokee and Eureka. When there’s joy on the cinders in Colstrip there’s salutation in the post offices of Chinook, Cut Bank and Big Timber.

The inspiring story of a cancer-survivor football star from the far eastern Montana outpost of Baker elicits cheers and tears from A (Alder) to Z (Zortman).

That’s just the way it is in the 406.

And that’s why the four daily Lee Enterprises newspapers in Montana — The Billings Gazette, Missoulian, Helena Independent-Record and Butte’s Montana Standard — are embarking on an exciting statewide collaboration I like to call, simply, “The 406”.

Think of it as your Montana Sports Superstore.

In The 406, we cover the Cats and Griz. We cover Montana State Billings and every Montana school in the Frontier Conference. And of course we cover the state’s far-flung high schools, broken down by sport and by class.

Under “Extra” on our new website, our combined statewide footprint allows us to cover Pioneer League baseball, American Legion baseball and rodeo. We also offer Where Are They Now features that catch up with some of Montana’s most famous athletes of yore and a “Your Sports” catch-all for everything else — ball not required.

And starting with Friday’s season openers, we’ll be the place to come for all your up-to-the-final-gun high school football scores from the mountains and river valleys of the west to the plains and coulees of the east.

All while each paper continues to provide the local print and online content you expect.

I could go on, but … come see for yourself at Then slide over to “like” us on our new 406 Facebook page and “follow” us on Twitter

We’ve been building to this moment for more than a year, since The Gazette moved veteran Billings sports reporter Greg Rachac to Bozeman to cover Montana State athletics.

It was, in effect, a two-for-one, given that our presence in the Gallatin Valley has enabled The Gazette, Standard and Independent-Record to provide readers not only with unprecedented coverage of the Cats but also the Missoulian’s historically exceptional coverage of the University of Montana.

Previously, most of the Missoulian’s Griz content was left on the cutting-room floor in Billings, Helena and Butte for lack of balance with the Cats.

Now the Cats and Griz are side-by-side in The 406.

Similarly, The 406 opens a door to streamlining our once-fragmented coverage of the Frontier Conference — and the hundreds of former Montana high school stars who populate those rosters.

Even more appealing is what means for followers of the state’s high school sports scene.

Until now, you might have to click on as many as five or six websites on a given Friday night to get the complete Montana high school picture.

Now you’ll need just one.

And that doesn’t just mean the schools each of our papers covered when working in our pre-digital-age silos.

When we say the entire state, we mean it.

After all, when Brock Osweiler leads the Denver Broncos to a Sunday Night Football victory over New England, it isn’t just Kalispell that beams.

When Tejay Van Garderen pedals L’Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France, it isn’t just Bozeman that applauds.

When Little Leaguers drive toward a World Series title, it isn’t just televisions in Billings that Montanans with puffed-out chests gather around.

That’s just the way it is in the 406 — and why for the Montana sports fan, is the perfect small town connecting all those very long streets.

Jeff Welsch is Lee Montana executive sports editor. Contact him at[email protected] or 406-670-3849