BUTTE — Jake Olson’s performance at the 2021 Montana East-West Shrine Game earned him the offensive MVP award. Olson was not the only Butte-area athlete to be honored though, as those who could not play last year were recognized for their off-field efforts.
Olson, the University of Montana commit, said the week leading up to the game was filled with anticipation. The energy translated into a touchdown catch and 48 receiving yards for Olson, yet team chemistry is what he credited for the West team’s 21-12 victory.
“The energy was amazing, and the team chemistry might have been the best I’ve been a part of. The award could’ve gone to a number of guys, I’m lucky to get picked,” Olson said. “You could feel the energy through practice in Butte, to Billings and into the game.”
Olson led all receivers in yardage and completed a two-point conversion in addition to his touchdown catch. But the West did not immediately find its offensive rhythm, trailing 12-0 after one quarter.
Things changed in the second quarter, during which West scored 15 unanswered points, perhaps ignited by Olson’s touchdown catch. Olson said it was his favorite moment of the game.
“That touchdown I got off the corner route was awesome,” Olson said. “It was fourth and seven and I caught it up the middle. Three guys tried to take me down, but I took them with me a few yards before scoring.”
The West team scored another touchdown in the third quarter via a Colter Janacaro run. The run was the last scoring play of the game.
Olson was joined by four other athletes from Butte, including Butte Central’s Bryan Holland. Holland finished the game with three assisted sacks, one unassisted sack and two tackles.
“Representing Butte and getting to practice in Butte was huge,” Olson said. “I don’t know, we brought that Butte toughness that I think is unique to Butte.”
In addition to toughness, Butte athletes, as well as the Butte community, showed generosity and kindness toward Shriners Hospital even when football was not being played. When the pandemic canceled the 2020 Shrine Game, Butte-area players started a fundraiser that went on to raise over $50,000 for the hospital.
While not all former players involved were able to attend, fundraiser participants were recognized after the first quarter of the 2021 game. Former Butte High Bulldog and current quarterback at Montana State, Tommy Mellott, reflected on the moment and the work that was required to raise the money.
“They let everyone who did not get to play last year come and be recognized,” Mellott said. “So most of the Butte guys went down to Billings and we presented a check. It showed what we were able to do.”
The fundraiser, which was promoted by local media outlets, supported by businesses and contributed towards by the public, took the form of a cornhole tournament. 25 of the 50 cornhole boards used were donated by Town Pump in the community-inclusive event.
Once Mallott found out that the Shrine Game had been canceled, he said neither he nor is his teammates were concerned about football.
“When we heard the news that the Shrine Game was getting canceled, a couple of my buddies started talking. We were just asking, ‘what can we do for the Shriners?’,” Mellott said. “We knew people were losing jobs, healthcare was more important than ever and they weren’t getting the revenue from the Shrine Game.”
Thomas McGree, a Butte Central alum, also participated in the fundraiser. McGree, who now plays safety for Carroll College, was unable to attend the 2021 game but spoke about how special the cornhole tournament was.
McGree said the original goal of the fundraiser was to raise $10,000. But as the fundraiser continued, he was delighted to surpass that goal substantially.
“We made an ad for radio and an article came out about it. We had a lot of connections and talked to a bunch of people,” McGree said. “We shot for $10,000 and next thing you know everyone in Butte was donating to it.”
“It was really good to see the game get played again this year,” McGree continued. “I remember getting that phone call saying it was cancelled and it was sad. But I also remember saying ‘let’s do something to raise a little money’.”