Hardin vs. Lodge Grass

Lodge Grass fans cheer during a game against Hardin at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark on Jan. 30. The allotted State B boys basketball tournament tickets for Lodge Grass fans were sold out before the school released its password.

BILLINGS — Lodge Grass’ Class B state boys basketball tickets sold out earlier than the school had intended because at least one person hacked the online ticket system in the early hours of Monday morning.

Because of COVID-19, Lodge Grass was already restricted in how many fans it could send to the Indians' State B boys games this week at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark. Monday's hack prevented many fans from getting the chance to purchase the limited number of available tickets.

“Some parents were upset today quite a bit. They were upset about not being able to purchase extra tickets for grandma or grandpa or auntie or uncle,” Lodge Grass athletic director Dee Pretty On Top told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com. “That kind of example being set, that’s not right.”

The Montana High School Association allowed 500 tickets per team to be sold for this week's State B boys and girls basketball tournaments. Lodge Grass reserved some of those 500 for players' parents, according to Pretty On Top. The rest would become available on a first-come, first-served basis at 8 a.m. Monday.

Links for all 16 State B teams appeared on the Metra’s website at some point after they clinched state berths this past weekend. Each link goes to a different page that requires a password. Whoever has access to the password can then go to the ticket buying page until all 500 tickets are purchased.

Lodge Grass administrators were planning to post their ticket password on the school’s website at 8 a.m. Monday. But people — or perhaps just one person — gained access to the password hours earlier, and the 500-ticket limit was reached after 75 transactions, per Pretty On Top. Lodge Grass superintendent Trivian Rides the Bear began receiving calls around 4 or 5 a.m. from board members about the sellout.

It was not clear who hacked the ticket system as of Monday night, Pretty On Top said. In hindsight, he wishes the school had come up with a password that was more difficult to figure out, although neither he nor other administrators know exactly how the system was hacked, if it was done illegally, etc. They are investigating.

Administrators might be able to get a sense of who hacked the system when they see who shows up at the Metra this week, and rumors have been swirling.

“Within any small community, there’s speculation, there are always names being thrown around. People have a pretty good idea of who did what,” Pretty On Top said. “We can’t be definitive about it, but again, it’s a small town.”

Lodge Grass administrators discussed the option of undoing those ticket sales, but the MHSA would not allow it mainly because the tournament is so close to starting, Pretty On Top said.

As of Monday night, the ticket links for the other 15 State B teams still went to pages where passwords could be entered. Lodge Grass’ page simply said, “Tickets are sold out.”

Pretty On Top knew the demand for State B tickets would be high in his basketball-loving Crow community, but he didn’t foresee a hack.

“We love basketball, we enjoy the sport, but to go to that length to hoard (tickets), corner the market on that, it’s pretty outrageous,” he said.

The MHSA restricted attendance at every state basketball tournament this month in an effort to reduce COVID transmission risk. Last week’s Southern B Divisional tournaments were also played at the Metra and had a 500-ticket-per-team restriction. Lodge Grass purchased all 500 divisional tickets and sold them at the school, limiting two tickets per sale.

Lodge Grass hasn’t allowed any spectators to attend home games this season because of COVID concerns. There were 2,900 total tickets available for each of the Indians’ regular-season boys and girls games against Hardin and Fairfield at the Metra, which has a 10,500-person capacity for basketball.

Lodge Grass shared last season’s State B boys title with Fairfield. At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the top-ranked Indians will open state play against No. 9 Florence-Carlton. The boys and girls tournaments for Class AA, B and C will all conclude on Saturday (State A was played last week).

“Any other year, we’d probably have the Metra packed to capacity. With the team doing well, they are a must-see event,” Pretty On Top said. “I’m glad the boys made it this far. To be at the final tournament of the season, I’m happy. But I’ll be glad when the season’s over.”

Email Victor Flores at victor.flores@406mtsports.com and follow him on Twitter at @VictorFlores_BG

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