BUTTE -- Butte’s Tommy Mellott grew up watching the Shrine Game, and when he received the Christmas Day call that he was selected to represent the West in 2020 it was a dream fulfilled.
“It was pretty awesome waking up and hearing that you got selected to the Shrine Game,” said Mellott, now a freshman at Montana State. “I know a lot of people that were in it when I was going through high school, so it was a pretty big thing.”
But by now you know the rest of the story. One by one in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the state basketball tournaments, then the entire spring sports seasons, and eventually the entire summer all-star schedule.
Mellott and the 79 other players from across Montana didn’t get a chance to compete. His parents saw the dejection on his face.
“He was disappointed, but we were heartbroken,” said Dina Mellott, Tommy’s mother. “It was devastating. No track, no prom - just so many things they weren't able to have. And so it was sad.”
Worse than canceled game was what it meant for the Shriners Hospital in Spokane. Over the past 10 years, the Montana East-West Shrine game has raised more than $1 million, which directly benefits children in need of medical care.
No game means no money. Until Tommy Mellott decided to do something about it.
“I had some free time with no sports so I just went and talked to my parents a little bit and they said that Butte’s had some success with different cornhole tournaments,” Tommy said. “And they've really enjoyed them and they've made pretty good money.”
So Mellott reached out to the other Butte players selected for the Shrine Game and told them he was planning a cornhole tournament. They quickly jumped on board to help any way they could.
The event started with modest goals, hoping to raise $10,000. But the Mellotts quickly realized there was no shortage of generosity in Butte.
“When the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation said that they would match up to $10,000, we for sure have to make $10,000 now, because then that'll be $20k,” Dina said. “And then Town Pump jumped in with $6,000, Gilman Construction jumped in $5,000, and Jordan Contracting with another $5,000.”
And on and on it went. Between the event, a silent auction, and complete strangers delivering checks, the Butte Shrine Game participants raised nearly $60,000 for the Shriners Hospital.
“It really does show what Butte can do when they want to do it,” Dina said. “It was just incredible to watch so many people coming out of the woodwork to support these kids and support this cause. I’m so proud of them all. I mean, those boys were so amazing. And that just really touches me and we're very proud of them and all of them.”
Mellott learned an important lesson in taking nothing for granted, and he hopes the money raised can help cover the expenses of a family in need.
“Sixty thousand dollars is not going to change the world but it will definitely help hopefully a couple families, a couple of people’s surgeries,” Mellott said. “Just helping them as much as we possibly can.”
Mellott and his Butte teammates from the 2020 team will present a check to the Shriners Hospital between the first and second quarters of the 2021 Montana East-West Shrine game on Saturday in Billings.