Nobody will dispute that 2020 will go down as the worst year of the century.
That has nothing to do with the Lakers and Dodgers winning titles in the same calendar year, either. Well, it has a little to do with that, but it the dumpster fire that was 2020 goes well beyond the NBA and MLB.
We just missed out on so many things because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lasting impression of the year for me is seeing Butte High parents trying to look over and through the fence from outside Vigilante Stadium in Helena.
The Bulldogs opened the season on the road against Helena High, and opposing fans were not allowed inside the stadium.
Some Bulldog fans pushed bushes aside, while others cut them. Even more pulled slots out of the fence so they might get a glimpse of their son or grandson playing in the game.
The rest of the season went on with grandparents, aunts, uncles and fellow students not being able to watch. It was like we were in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
In 2020, we missed the championship games of the state basketball tournaments. We missed the track, softball and tennis seasons. We missed graduation parties. We missed festivals, concerts and parades.
Maybe the one thing I missed the most was the Montana East-West Shrine Game.
The 2020 version of the game was completely wiped out as COVID-19 took a strong hold on our state, country and world.
Well, not completely.
The Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane did not miss out on a huge check from the game that was never played. The hospital still got nearly $55,000 that was raised by a cornhole tournament organized by the Butte selected and their parents.
Those players were Aaron Richards, Thomas McGree, Guido Ossello, Trevor Neumann, Scout Allen, Konor McClafferty, Lucas Kingston, Quin Sullivan, Kobe and Kameron Moreno and, of course, Tommy Mellott.
Actually, it was Mellott’s idea, and he was the driving force. On the very day he learned he would not be able to play in the Shrine Game, a longtime goal, he started thinking of ways to help the Shriners kids.
You can only imagine how much fun it would have been to see Mellott, now a Montana State Bobcat, lead the West Side in the game that never was.
Some of those players got to be on the field Saturday night in Billings as they presented the big check in front of the huge Daylis Stadium crowd. It was great to see them get a round of applause for what they did.
But really, they deserved so much more than that. Nothing could possibly make up for the experience they missed out on.
For one thing, they should have been able to be part of a Kasey Morley touchdown run.
Now 10, Morley is a Shriners patient from Anaconda. He was the game’s patient ambassador a few years ago, and he has been making a habit of lighting up the West defense every summer.
Morley will show up to a practice to remind the players why they are playing. Then the he will line up a play at running back.
Here is Butte High graduate D.J. Jackson’s description of being a blocker for Kasey last Wednesday at Naranche Stadium.
“He came out here yesterday, and we put him at running back against the whole defense,” Jackson, a center, said. “There’s like 30 people on the field.
“We just gave him the ball. He was stiff arming people, running them over. We were all blocking for him. We put him on our shoulder and walked him off the field after he scored a touchdown. It was so awesome.”
Kasey is what the Shrine Game is all about. Sudah Davis is what the game is all about.
Seeing Sudah, on two prosthetic legs from the Shrine Hospital, leading the West Side boys onto Naranche Stadium before the 2013 game is one of the best moments in the history of Butte’s storied stadium.
The game is also about 2019 patient ambassador Emaline Musson performing with the cheerleaders at halftime. It is about the motto, “Strong legs run so weak legs may walk.”
The game is about a whole lot more than that, too.
Every year, All-Star players from around the state come together as a team in less than a week. It happens every year with the West camp in Butte. It happens in Billings with the East.
Players get to know players they did not think they would ever want to know, and they form a friendship that will last a lifetime.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s one of the funnest things I’ve ever been a part of in my whole life,” Butte High graduate Jake Olson said last week. “I’m rooming with Carter Lake (a linebacker from Hamilton). He’s basically been my brother for the last three days. Along with everyone else, it’s like the biggest family.”
Olson played tight end for the West Side. He caught a touchdown and a 2-point conversion in the West victory on his way to earning MVP honors.
A couple days into the camp, Olson knew that he was part of something special.
“It’s just smart football minds,” he said. “Everyone is on the same page. Everyone is cracking jokes. We all love each other. A lot of us would have never met. Like a Class B guy would never have met a AA guy, and they’re like closer than ever. It’s just brotherhoods for your whole life, and with a ton of guys.”
The Butte High guys even like the Missoula Sentinel guys. The Spartans like the Bulldogs, too, showing that all the vitriol on Facebook the last two football seasons really was just the work of a few moron adults.
The squeaky wheels made us all look bad.
At their core, people truly are better than those Facebook fights. We see that with the outpouring of donations to the Shriners Hospital during the football game.
We see that when the former rivals come together for a common cause and realize that they have new friends. If football rivals can come together and have the week of their lives together, then political rivals can talk as well. Right?
As Rocky Balboa says at the end of D.J. Jackson’s favorite movie, Rocky IV, “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”
Since 1947, the Montana East-West Shrine Game has showed us that. Year after year, the game helps restore faith in humanity.
The awful year that was 2020 robbed us all of that great game and all those great experiences. In 2021, the Shrine Game made its triumphant return.
Man, did we ever miss it.
— Bill Foley, whose usually goes to Rocky III for his movie quotes, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74