In 2014, the Billings Gazette conducted a poll called “Quest for the Best” which asked respondents to vote for the high school football stadium they considered to be the best venue in the state. Sixty-four percent of voters chose Naranche Memorial Stadium in Butte. The people of Butte were not surprised.
The stadium at Butte High School was initially completed in 1938. The Board of Trustees of Butte School District No. 1 named the stadium Butte High Stadium. Fred Taylor, chairman of the stadium committee explained to the Montana Standard that “the name was selected because of the belief that regardless of what official title was given the field it would always be known simply as Butte High Stadium.” The facility was dedicated on September 16, 1938, at the opening game of the season between Butte High and Havre.
In 1943, the Silver Post of the American Legion adopted a resolution proposing that the School Board of Trustees rename the stadium in honor of Eso Naranche, a former Butte High and Montana Grizzly football star who had been killed by a sniper on a WWII battlefield in North Africa in March of that year. The proposal was wholeheartedly endorsed by the Butte High School Silver B’s, an organization made up of football players who had played for the school 25 years ago or more. The Trustees approved the change on September 14, 1943, and the dedication of Naranche Memorial Stadium was held on October 15, 1943, before a game between Butte High and Great Falls.
Naranche Memorial Stadium was the site of many important and historic events over the years. In 1938, Naranche became the site of the Bobcat-Grizzly football game. The game had been played in Butte since 1926, when the Butte Chamber of Commerce convinced the two universities to move the game to Clark Park, which at that time was the largest stadium in the state. With its grandstand, bleachers, and some portable seating, Clark Park could host 8,000 fans. After the new Butte High Stadium was dedicated, the game was moved to that site. The new stadium could seat 6,000 with the option to add additional seating with the use of temporary bleachers. The Bobcat-Grizzly game would be played in Butte until 1950. Over time, the new stadium shared at least one characteristic with Clark Park. Both at times had fields of groomed dirt which made the games interesting for visiting teams and which seems to be a source of pride for Butte football players and fans.
In 1948, Harry S. Truman made a campaign stop in Butte, and after a parade through the town, he gave a speech at Naranche in front of a huge supportive crowd. Some say this visit was a turning point in Truman’s campaign that helped lead to his unexpected defeat of Thomas Dewey in the Presidential election of 1948.
Naranche deteriorated over time, and in 1974, the stadium was closed because of unsafe conditions. According to a story in the Montana Standard, July 2, 1974, “Sections of bleachers in the wooden structure were closed several years ago and the field is in need of more topsoil. Support beams in the stadium are dry-rotted. The stadium has been threatened by fire at least four times in the recent year when the ticket booth at the northeast corner of the stadium caught fire. Firemen recently answered three calls to the booth in a single day.”
In 2011, the stadium was reopened after extensive renovation which led to its designation as the best high school football stadium in the state in 2014. The charm of the stadium lies partly in its central location in the city. The dirt field, which was initially replaced with sod, has now been covered with artificial turf. The stadium was even chosen as the site of the Montana Grizzly Spring Game in 2017. Hopefully, there will be many memorable events to come.