HELENA — Driving past the Moose Lodge on N. Montana Ave. in Helena, the replaceable letters on the sign read, "PUBLIC WELCOME FOR BINGO; 1ST, 3RD, 5TH WED. 6:30 PM"
Though, inside the Moose Lodge Bingo hall on Tuesday nights, there's a different game being played, Cribbage.
The Helena Grass Roots Cribbage Club has been around for over three decades and in that time dozens of players have filtered through, whether it be for the night or for years. Freddie Haab has been playing with the club almost since the club was founded in the 1980s and said though they'll get about 20 players weekly, it started off much smaller.
"When we started there was only probably five or six people," said Haab.
Though the club has been around for decades, many, if not all, of the players got their start long before they came to the club.
"63 years," said Haab when asked how long she had been playing. "That's when I got married."
"The neighbor lady in Kalispell. She and her son played and I was hanging out and they invited me in to play," said Roger McGlenn.
"We used to go up to the ranch and play every weekend and so I learned at eight or nine to play and so we played at home all the time," said Sandy Sands. "When there was an opportunity to come and play and be a part of something that was a little more organized. That seemed pretty exciting. And it was nice, because it was something I could do with my dad."
Sands says while many got their start playing cribbage with friends and family, playing in the club creates a new, extended family.
"Not only was I here with my dad, but I really came to know an entirely different family. The people that are here at cribbage club and that I play with, around the country, is really a second family," said Sands.
Though most times, it's the same people playing week after week, McGlenn says it's a great opportunity to create great friendships.
"The interactions and the table talk and fun. You know, and getting to know people where every week you get, you know, same people," said McGlenn. "At this age, you know, it makes you get out of the house."
The Helena Cribbage Club is a part of the American Cribbage Congress, a national organization that hosts tournaments and provides an overarching structure to member clubs, which Sands says is awesome for people who want that, but for those who just want to play locally, there are plenty of opportunities.
"Reno, Nevada, at the Sands Hotel has the largest cribbage tournament in the United States and so we see people from coast to coast. And we will have some tournaments coming up here again. Right after Memorial Day, we're doing a three day tournament here at the [Moose Lodge]," said Sands.
Members of the club told MTN, that there's potential to create a new beginner's league because they understand playing nine consecutive games can be a lot for players who haven't been playing on a regular basis. Though, if people are trying to decide whether or not playing in a club is for them, the main message from club players is to give it a shot.
"Come out and give us a try," said McGlenn.
"Come out and give it a try," said Sands.
"Come and try us for at least six weeks. Now, after six weeks if you don't like us, don't come back," said Haab with a chuckle.
The Helena Grass Roots Cribbage Club season runs from September to May, with a summer session between June and August.