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Gazette opinion: State tournaments were big win for Billings
GAZETTE OPINION

Gazette opinion: State tournaments were big win for Billings

Manhattan vs. Lodge Grass

Lodge Grass’ players pose for pictures after the Lodge Grass Indians’ game against the Manhattan Tigers in the finals of the Class B State Championship Tournament at First Interstate Arena in Billings on Saturday.

Billings’ role in hosting the State B combined and State C combined high school basketball tournaments last week was an enormous win — for all of the approximately 600 athletes, whether they won or lost on the court; for their families and friends who came to see them play; and for the Billings business community.

Without wonderful work from the Montana High School Association, MetraPark First Interstate Bank Arena staff, the Lockwood Schools with the leadership of activities director Mike Erickson, and Visit Billings, ably led by Alex Tyson, this huge success would not have been possible.

“Billings is unique in Montana,” Tyson said. “We have 4,500 hotel rooms in 50 hotels. We have the 10,000-seat arena at MetraPark and the great facilities at Lockwood. Obviously, that capacity matters particularly when we have safety guidelines in place.”

And safety was the absolute priority.

“We knew going in that there were going to be very strict guidelines in place, implemented to keep students, athletes and officials safe — and also to keep our own community safe,” Tyson said. “Each team was limited to 500 fans, and they had to clear the arena after every game so fans for the next two teams could come in.”

But Tyson said, “We knew this was something we could do from a destination point of view.”

“We’re edging into a recovery scenario here in Billings,” she said. “We are a business-first, leisure-second town. But business meetings, conventions, business travel in general haven’t bounced back yet. There are many restrictions. So to have sports and leisure travel to Billings right now really helps our recovery.

“We are so grateful to have the opportunity to do this for our student athletes, and for our businesses, and to be able to do it protecting our public health at the same time.”

The past year, ever since MHSA’s state basketball tournaments were abruptly canceled before championship games could be played, has been rough on students. No prom, reduced football, no cheering, limited student sections at what games could be played.

“To at least give them some type of environment to celebrate their senior year felt really important,” Tyson said.

It did indeed.

Nice job, Visit Billings, and all who worked to make these tournaments a great success.

The Billings Gazette Editorial Board consists of President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.

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