The spiny field known to many Branson and Kim area residents as ‘the pasture’ has been home to the Branson Bearcats football team for the past five years.
The former baseball field which has sat idle since the late 1980’s was repurposed in 2016 and became host to Branson’s first varsity football team.
Finding success after years of disappointment, the Branson Bearcats debuted their first playoff appearance in the 2019 ‘mud bowl.’
“Our first playoff game two falls ago we called it the mud bowl because we got a big snow a couple nights before, we were out there that morning with shovels and propane torches trying to melt snow and it was a sloppy nasty wonderful football game,” said Athletic Director Brad Doherty.
Since its formation in 2016, ‘the pasture’ has come under scrutiny for its barren, rugged, abrasive state and many opposing coaches have had enough.
In an early Dec. meeting of Colorado 6-man schools one coach spoke up to announce his unwillingness to play on the Branson field, a feeling echoed by many other coaches present in the meeting.
The sentiment remained, without dramatic changes made to ‘the pasture,’ Branson would have to forfeit its home field and play its 2021 season at neutral ‘home’ sites or on the road.
“The first year it was literally a chunk of pasture, and we spent every practice picking stickers out of ourselves, and cactus out of back and arms because that is all we had on the field,” said former player Teagan Keeler.
Wheelbarrow’s full of rocks, weeds, and cacti collected by Branson Gym classes refined the dirt patched field into its current pristine state.
Now mostly devoid of cacti, rocks and thistles, the Branson football field’s many patches of dirt are dotted with holes from the healthy population of prairie dogs who have taken residence underneath the field.
Doherty tasked with field management, recounts his never-ending battle to fill the holes in before more sprout up.
The Branson football players have a unique attachment to their field, Khymen Green a member of Branson’s first team recalls his fond memories of walking away from practice with a dirt gritted smile and thistle-cut arms, an affinity not shared by Branson’s opponents.
The rugged field developed a mental and physical toughness unique to the Branson team said Athletic Director Brad Doherty.
The sparsely vegetated plot of land that hosts the Bearcats gathers locals from far and wide, with sidelines corralled by pickup trucks, camping chairs, and the occasional cow from the adjacent cattle pasture to the east has become a staple of the Branson community.
“This is the only big thing that Branson has that is ours,” said Doherty, “Branson combines with Kim and for all the other sports we play as the Kim Mustangs, but for Football we get to be the Branson Bearcats.”
“Our practice field is an area just off the field, it used to have some grass now, it is just a dirt patch, so our boys just practice on dirt,” said Doherty.
This comes despite the many efforts of Branson community members to restore greenery to the field that resembles images from the 1930’s dustbowl.
“First of all, the soil, I had the conservation service come out and do a soil test for me and it came out almost pure halite, which is pure salt, and he told me nothing would grow here,” said Brad Caldwell, Branson’s superintendent and founder of the football program.
Caldwell doubling as the high school chemistry teacher, laid four tons of top soil atop the 40 by 80-yard plot of land, hoping to grow a lush football field in time for the team’s first season.
To no avail, the following summer arose a bed of thistles.
As many refurbishments have yielded little success to improve the state of the field, the towns arid southeastern Colorado climate lacks an abundance of water for its sacred plot of gridiron land.
Doubling as the town’s water director, Doherty says it would take 30,000 gallons of water per day to keep the field green, an issue for Branson’s five springs which produce just 14,000 gallons of water daily.
Looking at a 2021 football season without games in Branson, Doherty went into “scramble mode” and came up with a solution: turf football fields.
Communicating with two turf companies from Pueblo and Colorado Springs, Doherty approached the Branson School board with a $250,000 quote.
Branson’s school board, tasked with presiding over the school’s 74 k-12 students, reluctantly declined the multi-hundred-thousand-dollar investment.
From there Doherty gathered a group of Bearcat volunteers, to launch a private fundraiser to finance a field.
The team’s research and planning, quickly revealed a new field with all the bells and whistles, would cost closer to $400,000. Fitted with a scoreboard, crow’s nest, goal posts and bleachers.
The town’s 49 residents rank the school district tax value 168th of the 178 in Colorado.
With limited town resources, Doherty aims to collect the $400,000 through crowd funding, hoping to secure support from larger donors as the project gathers momentum.