By Bill Foley
Chalk up one more huge loss for the Class of 2020.
For the first time since 1946, Montana’s East-West Shrine Game will not be played this summer.
Citing concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shrine officials announced this evening that this year’s game, which was scheduled for July 18 at Rocky Mountain College’s Herb Klindt Field in Billings, has been canceled.
The Shrine Game Executive Board made the decision after a conference call on Wednesday. In a statement, the board said the decision was made based on the latest information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Complete statement)
Montana’s Shrine Game had run consecutively since its inception in 1947. The 74th Shrine Game will be held in Billings next summer. That means the 2022 game will be held in Great Falls. The Shrine Game will not return to Butte until 2023.
“I feel bad for the seniors,” said Jeff Hartwick, the West Team coordinator. “It’s one more thing that got ripped away from them.”
The loss of the game will hit the seniors from Butte particularly hard. Eight Mining City players learned they were picked for the West Team roster on Christmas morning. Three more were selected as alternates.
Butte High players selected were Scout Allen, Konor McClafferty, Tommy Mellott, Kobe Moreno and Kameron Moreno. Butte Central players to get the call were Thomas McGree, Guido Ossello and Aaron Richards.
Butte High’s Lucas Kingston and Quinn Sullivan and BC’s Trevor Neumann were named as alternates for the team that would have held practices in Butte before heading to Billings for the game.
Butte High coach Arie Grey was set to coach the game for his second time since taking over at Butte High in 2008. He coached the West Side to a victory at Naranche Stadium in 2013.
Grey, who played in the Shrine Game in 1997 and served as an assistant in 2009, said he sympathizes with the Shriners and the patients of the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Spokane, Washington.
“It’s a great game for a great cause,” Grey said. “It’s sad to see that they’re not going to have it, but I completely understand. It must have been tough for those guys to make that decision.
“You feel bad for the organization because that Shrine Organization is such a great organization.”
The Montana Shrine Game has been the top — or close to the top — game in the nation in terms of money raised for Shriner Hospitals for each of the past 10 years. It regularly sends checks of more than $100,000 to Spokane.
That money help provide expert medical at no cost to the patient’s family.
Grey said he is also sad to miss out on one more chance to coach some of his players, as well as the opportunity to get to know other players from around the state.
“You get to know them and know their families,” Grey said. “That’s what’s great about those all-star games.
“For some of these kids, this is their last chance to play football. The friendships you get from that game are amazing.”
Grey, who is also Butte High’s track coach, is still reeling from Wednesday’s decision to suspend the 2020 spring season. He said he hopes that decision, along with the cancelation of the Shrine game, will help us overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hopefully this will help get us back normal,” he said.
John Fitzgerald of Red Lodge was set to coach the East Side. It would have been the Columbus native’s first head coaching job in the Shrine Game.
Fitzgerald, a member of the University of Montana’s 2001 national championship team, also played in the game in 1997.