High school basketball returned to the Metra in Billings this week, with the Laurel and Billings Central boys and girls teams renewing their rivalries on Friday night.
With COVID precautions, the 10,000-seat First Interstate Arena was down to a capacity of 2,900.
"Hey, it's great to be out, see the fans," said Darrell McGillen, whose granddaughter, Ella Crookston, plays for the Laurel girls. "I think it's a safe area, safe condition to be in so abide by the rules, you'll be fine."
"It's so exciting to have everybody back together," said Amanda Hill, whose son Logan Hill plays for the Central boys. "We love to cheer on these kids and they work so hard year after year. I think we have an exceptional basketball program, and it's really fun to all be together. It is a big family."
"It's fun to see all of our friends who are part of this whole family that we have here, because when we're empty, it gets pretty lonely," said Tim Goodridge, MetraPark assistant general manager.
Metrapark management sectioned off the lower part of the arena to allow for distancing, and also let fans find their own seats and stay distanced in the upper part.
"We've zip tied alternating rows in the lower bowl to give people the spacing that they need," Goodridge said. "And we've set our capacity at less than 30%, which leaves plenty of spacing."
Goodridge said there are bigger challenges than the number of fans.
"The real rub is not in limiting the capacity," he said. "The real rub is in figuring out how to get people past the choke points and in safely. And make sure that you got the lines proper at the concessions, and you don't have a big lineup in the lobby waiting to get in. Those are really the issues that we got to make sure that we have worked out properly. So far, so good. We're really enthusiastic about how it's going."
It's a big night for the teams to play in front of family and friends.
"I know my granddaughter is excited about it," McGillen said.
"I think it means everything for these players to be together," Hill said.
The Lodge Grass and Hardin boys and girls teams played on Wednesday.
Goodridge said Metra has a new basketball floor and four games have been played on it.
He also recalls that last year the First Interstate Arena hosted the last basketball game in the country on March 13, before stay-at-home orders went into effect.