It's a Christmas tradition unlike any other, the releasing of the Montana East-West Shrine Game rosters. High school football players rapidly refresh their computers at midnight as Christmas Eve gives way to Christmas Day, or wake up and immediately check to see if they made it.
In Helena, Zachary Evans was one of those players refreshing his computer at midnight. When he saw his name on the roster of the West team, it was a sigh of relief and a wave of pride that came over him shortly thereafter.
“I was super excited. I'm more proud of me than I ever have been, really, before this game, because I've always wanted to do it and be a part of this game," said Evans. "It was a really proud moment of myself.”
Across town, Helena Capital's Tyler Little also found out shortly after midnight, but in a completely different fashion.
"I was playing video games and my mom came up and she's like, 'What do you have to say for yourself?' And I was like, 'What?'" Little said with a chuckle. "I didn't know what she was talking about, and then she told me.”
Little’s reaction was also one you’d expect from anyone wrapped up in a long video game session.
“I was like, 'Nice.' That's that's pretty much all I said. I was really tired," said Little. "I just asked if my friend made it. And she said, 'Yeah,' so I was happy.”
That friend is fellow Helena Capital Bruin Chayton Winkle. Winkle, who made the roster as a linebacker, also noted he's excited to stack up against the best of the best in Montana with his good buddy.
“It's awesome. I mean, I've been playing with him since Small Fry (Football), and we're really, really close. So, it's going to be awesome,” said Winkle.
On the East team, Fort Benton sees some representation in Jace Thompson. Thompson said playing in the Shrine Game will be a good experience for him to get acclimated to 11-man football before joining the Montana Tech Orediggers later in the summer of 2021.
“I think it's a great opportunity to have and go out there and prove something, get used to 11-man, since I'll be playing that in college," said Thompson. "I think it's a really good opportunity for me, going into college football.”
Also on the East team will be Great Falls High's Ethan DeRoche. DeRoche, a two-time wrestling state-title winner, also proved to be an effective defensive lineman for the Bison in his senior year. Though he has those two wrestling state titles under his belt, getting a spot on the Shrine Game roster stacks up pretty nicely.
“Excited. I guess I wasn't really expecting it, but when I found out, 'Whoa,'" said DeRoche. "Very honored to play in it.”
Though the rosters were announced, the players will have to wait until the middle of next summer to join their teammates when the Montana East-West Shrine game kicks off in Billing on July 19, 2021.