BILLINGS — For years the Macy family has enjoyed a tradition after one of their kids’ sporting events.
“One of the coolest things that we do in our family is after the game, the kids get pictures with grandpa and grandma and Tanya and I," said Brian Macy, a Billings parent. "That's just something we do. Twenty years from now, we'll look back and go, 'Man, that was great. I'm glad grandpa got to be there.’”
It’s a family tradition that’s currently in jeopardy after Yellowstone County announced earlier this week it would begin the high school sports season with no fan attendance. Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton made the announcement at a media conference on Tuesday afternoon. Helena activities director Tim McMahon has also submitted a proposal to the Lewis and Clark County Health Department to conduct activities without fans.
Other counties have since announced their guidelines regarding fans at athletic events, including Flathead County limiting home participants to two tickets each, while not allowing visitors. Miles City’s Custer County High School will allow only immediate family members — parents, guardians and siblings — of home participants, while also prohibiting visiting fans from attendance.
Those announcements led Macy, who graduated a senior last year and has sophomore twins in sports this year, to join forces with parents across Montana in taking action against the counties’ decisions. One day after Yellowstone and Flathead announced their county ordinances, Macy co-created the Facebook group “Montana Sports Fans Alliance” to open communications about how to hopefully change the initiatives.
“I mean, there are solutions. It's like we're not even getting a voice,” he said.
Macy said parents and relatives of student-athletes are frustrated by inconsistencies in group gatherings. Concerts, fairs and other events have been approved in Montana, with proper social distancing, and he said sporting events can follow similar structuring.
“The average football team, maybe at 60 players and let's say 10 coaches, and if each of those players is allowed four guests, that’s still only 350 people per team, so 700-800 per game. Daylis Stadium alone has roughly a 5,000-seat capacity. You can't get spacing and 5,000 seats for 700 people?" Macy said. "I’ve got twins — my son plays football, my daughter's a volleyballer — same thing (in volleyball). They average 12 players, four coaches, that’s 60 people per team. My goodness, you can't fit 200 people in? I would imagine most of the gyms in the state hold at least 500 people, you can get spacing for less than 200 folks.
"Look at the seniors. I mean, look at the time and the energy, the money and the resources that families have put from, whatever, third grade until now helping these kids to be the best they could be at the sport they've chosen, and then not be able to watch them finish? That blows my mind."
For the past few days, the Facebook group has been a place for parents to vent, but many are also looking to take action. Laurel mother Katrina Welch created an online petition to allow fan attendance at sporting events, getting nearly 20,000 signatures in the first three days. According to Macy, there’s no simple one-step plan, but a more thorough procedure will benefit parents and fans in all of Montana’s counties.
“We're working on that and kind of strategizing as a group, but right now it appears that all of this falls in the lap of the governor and the local county health officials. We're asking members to be professional, don't attack them, keep it clean and take the emotion out of it, and reach out by phone, by email and contact the governor," said Macy. "I think people need to reach out and be heard. I've heard that the governor's office is being flooded with emails and flooded with phone calls. So they're hearing us, and I just hope that people are willing to come back to the table and I hope they're willing to listen to the players, listen to the parents. And let's look for compromises to make this work and show that we can do it. Instead of just saying we can't -- I despise it when somebody says I can't do something -- I believe we can, if we all get to the table and, us as a group, we have to do it right.”
“I bet I could recruit 50 parents to throw on the old crosswalk vest and a mask and police the crowds," he continued, discussing potential solutions to maintaining social distancing. "I just know that we could do that at games. If somebody's not distancing, somebody's not wearing a mask, then we're going to have to deal with that. But I believe people love sports and need sports and understand that our kids need sports, that they would, people love to talk tough on social media. But in reality, when it came down to it, between watching their kids or grandkids, myself included, I'm going to play by the rules just so it happens.”
At the end of the day, Macy said it’s all about giving the kids an opportunity to compete, but keeping in mind the memories they create by enjoying those moments with their parents or even grandparents. While he hopes to change the minds of those releasing the guidelines, the last thing he wants to see is the complete cancellation of high school activities.
"Man, I pray every day that it doesn't. My kids are going to be sophomores, but my senior last year lost his senior track season. And I just think that it was one of the most brutal things you could do to a kid," Macy said. "I just think we got to go with it and, you know what, we're going to have some cases. I've started calling it Influenza C, man, and it's going to be here forever. It's not going away. We'll probably have a cycle of it every year, just like we do with Influenza A and B. And I don't want to sound callous in what I'm saying, but, man, we cannot hide under the bed anymore. We got to move, can't cancel things, move forward.
"Legion Baseball had their state tournament here, and I specifically asked on my page yesterday, did we have any issues arise from the state Legion tournament? And from across the state, not an issue. And there were fans in the stands, they were there all day. Kids rode buses, slept in hotels, ate at restaurants. We can do this, we can do this. They just need to hear us. There needs to be some good, old-fashioned Montana common sense come to play and let's get after it."