When it was announced last month that Big Ten football was officially playing this fall, the uncertainty of whether or not there would be fans allowed in the stands was a question many were pondering as the COVID-19 pandemic lives on.
But when it was announced that there would be no fans at all, I felt sad. Sad for people like me. Students who love attending games and singing “Victory for MSU” after each Spartan touchdown. Students who attend large tailgates with their friends before games.
What I had not thought of, however, were the MSU alumni and season ticket holders. They are just as, if not more, passionate about the green and white. They too still have the MSU Fight Song memorized and throw their own pregame tailgates.
Don Fletcher, a 79-year old resident of Port Huron, Michigan, is one of those people.
Fletcher has had Michigan State football season tickets since 1967. For the first time since then, Fletcher and his family will not attend a single MSU football game this season.
Don Fletcher and his wife Bonnie Fletcher were high school sweethearts born and raised in Lansing. Both he and Bonnie would attend Michigan State, planting their roots in a Spartan family for the future.
The ticket's have been in the family for 68 years, with Bonnie’s father originally purchasing the tickets. They had six of them: two at the 50-yard line and four at the 45-yard line. They still have the exact seats today.
Holding onto season tickets for decades is no easy task, especially financially. Don said he uses that as motivation to keep working hard, something he got from his parents working in the restaurant industry.
“That's kind of a tough business in terms of physically, it’s tough and long hours. So, I learned the value of hard work,” Don said.
Don started his work at the age of 19. While also being a full-time student, Don sold programs for the football and basketball games, while also helping to clean the football stadium following gamedays.
After graduating from MSU with a degree in human resources, Don went into the automotive industry for five years before joining the health industry. Don worked at the McLaren Port Huron Hospital for 33 years and served as president for 16 of those.
Through all the long hours and hard work though, Michigan State football has remained extremely important to Don and the rest of the Fletcher family. Don said he has only missed about three or four home games in his life since first attending MSU in 1959 and only for reasons like "a wedding and a couple funerals."
Bowl games are also common for the Fletcher Family. Don and others have gone to the two most recent MSU Rose Bowl games in the 1987 and 2013 seasons. For the 2013 season Rose Bowl, played on Jan. 1 2014, Don brought 16 of his family members with him to Pasadena, California.
“My wife said ‘Are you serious?'... What I wanna do is I wanna enjoy it with them so anyone that wanted to go could go,” Don said. “It was one of the most incredible experiences. From the weather, to the Rose Bowl, to the parade, to the pep rally, it was just a terrific experience.”
But with the universal Big Ten decision of no fans in attendance for the 2020 season at any school in the conference, disappointment is not a surprising reaction for the 53-year season ticket holder.
“It was very disappointing,” Don said. “Our family says ‘during this pandemic let's be cautious but let's not stop living.’ We want to take in masks and washing hands and social distancing, but we really feel like some other colleges have done that we would like to see fans in the stadium and practice social distancing."
Schools in other conferences such as the SEC or Big 12 are allowing fans in the stands at a limited capacity that prioritizes social distancing.
Yes, the Fletcher’s and other fans can still watch the games on T.V., but the experience is not nearly as close to what it is like at Spartan Stadium. Don says the excitement on and around campus will be one of the things that he will miss the most this season.
“It is nothing like physically being in the stadium,” Don said. “We drive down Shaw Lane and you start to pick up the excitement because you’ve got the tents and the parties and everyone that is excited."
On a typical game day, Don and his family would arrive about three hours before kickoff to tailgate. Due to their seniority, even if they do not get there exactly on time a friend will make sure to save them the same spot every time.
But with no tailgating allowed in East Lansing this fall, alternative plans have to be made for the tailgate regulars.
Don said he likely will still get together with his family before the game in Port Huron but the experience will by no means be the same.
“It will be nothing like what we are normally accustomed to,” Don said. “We will certainly miss that because you just can’t duplicate that.”
To compensate, Michigan State is offering the ability to purchase cardboard cutouts to be placed in the stands on game day, similar to how other universities and professional sports teams are doing.
“I think that would be kind of cool if you could get a picture of you or the family to be in a certain location,” Don said. “I think everyone is trying to get back to a new normal."
Normality is exactly what people are looking for in this wild year it has been. With Mel Tucker’s MSU head coaching debut this Saturday versus Rutgers, society is getting somewhat closer to normality, at least with Big Ten football finally being played.
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