Cheer sections sparse, but full of heart in COVID era
In a traditional season, gymnasiums across the state would be packed with fans cheering for their favorite prep basketball teams battling for postseason glory.
The coronavirus pandemic has made for anything but a normal 2020-21 basketball season, delaying the start by nearly three weeks and forcing restrictions on the number of spectators allowed in gymnasiums.
Despite pandemic challenges, a small contingent of Charlo Lady Vikings made the most of their chance to support the purple and white as they made their way to a third-place finish with a 43-29 win over the Twin Bridges Lady Falcons during the Western C divisional tournament hosted in Deer Lodge last Friday afternoon.
Lady Viking senior Connor Fryberger said that it helped the game momentum to have crowd support, which is something athletes weren’t sure they were going to get at the beginning of the season due to pandemic concerns.
“I could really tell that the crowd was with us and supporting us,” she said. “Everybody was so loud. I appreciate our fans. Having a rowdy gym really does make a difference on every single player’s intensity during the game.”
After battling through a season of numerous COVID-19 caused game postponements, fan-less bleachers and mask-muffled cheers, a trio of Mission Valley prep basketball squads – Polson Pirates, Ronan Chiefs and Ronan Maidens –– each grabbed bracket spots in the upcoming State Class A tournament this past weekend.
In the Western A Divisional action, hosted at the Butte Civic Center, COVID-19 restrictions included no student sections, no bands and an allowance of only two spectators per athlete with a maximum 40 spectators per team.
Early Saturday evening, the Chiefs claimed a divisional third-place trophy with a 54-49 win over the Butte Central Maroons, meanwhile, in the late game Saturday, the Pirates grabbed a second-place finish with a 42-32 loss to the Dillon Beavers. Along with fan support throughout the tournament, the Pirates were able to hear cheers from the Polson cheer squad.
Polson cheer coach Amanda Clement acknowledged not having fans and a student section has put a damper not only on the athletic season but cheer season as well. “We enjoy having our fans with us especially our awesome student body,” said Clement.
Also playing under the same COVID-19 restrictions, the fourth-seeded Maidens battled the top-seeded Columbia Falls Wildcats to a narrow 59-54 loss in the girls’ Saturday evening championship, hosted at the Butte Central High School Maroon Activity Center. Ronan supporters made up a vast majority of the attendance and could be heard cheering loudly.
The Pirates, Chiefs and Maidens will travel to Great Falls to play in the Class A Combined State Basketball Tournament hosted at the Montana ExpoPark starting on Wednesday, Mar. 3, and running through Saturday, Mar. 6.
This year’s sports season has been full of adjustments and uncertainty, but people have adapted and found a way to support local athletes. Many have participated by watching sports through live video action. For this season, although limited, there is still a chance to participate at the live game. Chief and Maiden game pass sales began Monday, March 1, and will be available at the Ronan School District office for $20 per pass. Attendance is limited to 500 passes for each team.
Tickets are also available for pick up at the Polson High School office, and sales are limited to 500 Pirate admission passes. The school is offering the tickets during general school hours until the team bus leaves for Great Falls on Wednesday, around 3:30 p.m.