Engine 18 honors memory of M.J. Simkins

By: 
M.P. Regan
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fun where there was once none

Flint McCullough, one of the Engine 18 originals, celebrates UMW football during Saturday’s tailgate party. J.P. Plutt photo

The no. 18 did not take the field for the Montana Western football team at its 2018 home opener last weekend.

But it was all around Vigilante Field in Dillon on Saturday, inspiring good times and great deeds, in honor of Mark James (M.J.) Simkins, Jr., the young man who did the same while wearing no. 18 for Montana Western.

“I mean, look at that—that’s what you want, that kind of enthusiasm,” said Darrin Morast, motioning toward the hundreds of people gathered outside Vigilante Field around Engine 18, an old fire truck renamed for Simkins, Jr. who passed in a house fire last year prior to what would have been his senior season at UMW.

“I just wanted to try to do something for M.J., and it’s blossomed into something I never dreamed of,” said the Dillon Volunteer Fire Department chief of the old fire truck with the words “in memory of all former Bulldog players and coaches who left us too soon” added to its side.

The truck includes plenty of other added-on features to help people celebrate with fine food and beverages.

“This truck has a smoker and barbecue, two kegs of beer and a full bar,” said Morast of the renovated Engine 18 that debuted at UMW’s home opener last season, and got joined by a companion for this year’s Bulldog home opener last Saturday.

“And then this winter we thought, let’s make a barbecue truck—so we built that thing,” continued Morast, motioning to another old truck parked in back of the Bulldog homestand beside Engine 18.

“That truck has two 500 gallon tanks of propane, one for a smoker one for a rotisserie.”

In addition to a tailgate destination for Dawg fans, Engine 18 provides a fundraising vehicle for a fund that collects money for scholarships.

“We’re selling t-shirts and hats, and all the money that we make will go back to the fund. The support has been overwhelming,” said Morast, who can be found at Montana Western home games atop Engine 18, helping feed and fuel Bulldog fans and raise money for the cause.

“Anyone interested in donating to Engine 18 can contact myself or Trina McCullough, and we can get them the information that they need.”

As is appropriate for the memory of a young man who gave his dedication and energies to so many local organizations, M.J. Simkins has also been honored by the formation of another scholarship fund.

“We set up a separate one from this that we endowed and will always be in his name as an education scholarship,” said Kathy Simkins of the Forever M.J. #18 Scholarship recently created to honor her late son and help others trying to follow in his footsteps to academic and athletic achievement.

“It is basically to provide scholarships for student athletes,” said M.J.’s dad, Mark Simkins.

“Last year, we were able to give a $900 scholarship, and this year we are hoping to give a couple more. Eventually, we’d like every program at Montana Western to receive a scholarship,” added Simkins, Sr., a member of the board of the Dillon Cubs American Legion Baseball organization M.J. and his younger brother, Nate, starred for before heading to college.

“When parents send their children here, we want them to know that there is a program helping out student-athletes, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Anyone interested in donating to the Forever M.J. #18 Scholarship can contact the Simkins family or Trina Mc-Cullough.

Or they can come to this Saturday’s Montana Western home game against Rocky Mountain College.

The game is set to start at 1 p.m. But the celebrations will commence in the parking lot outside Vigilante Field around Engine 18 hours before kickoff, and continue all afternoon, to honor M.J. Simkins and other late Bulldog football players.

And, if it’s like previous tailgates held for that cause, there will be plenty of people around to talk about M.J. Simkins and all that he meant as a player, student and person, and why the scholarships represent such an appropriate honor for the extraordinary former Montana Western and Beaverhead County High School standout.

“This has been more than we would have ever imagined,” admitted Kathy Simkins, surveying the large crowd by Engine 18 last Saturday.

“Call it whatever you want, this is a bunch of individuals who believe in purpose and dedication, and that’s what M.J. was about, being dedicated to what he was doing,” added M.J.’s dad.

“I hope that this continues for a very long time.”

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