Last Friday was a big day for fans of the Billings Senior High Broncs. The team ended a second consecutive perfect season by winning the Class AA football championship against Helena High.
For some of the people who live near Daylis Stadium, where the championship game was played, it was a big day for a different reason. It means that until next fall, they won’t have to listen to music blaring out of Daylis’ new sound system during after-school football practice four days a week, or during Friday night games.
Jerry Kessler, who’s lived a stone’s throw from Daylis at 237 Ave. B for 38 years, said that “for 36 years, it was tolerable. It’s become pretty intolerable.”
It was during the fall of 2016 that he remembers first hearing music being played during football practice. Then, this fall, after the installation of a new video display and scoreboard, together with a new, high-quality sound system, the sound became unbearable.
Kessler, who retired five years ago after working as a teacher and counselor at Senior High for 40 years, and whose two children graduated from there, said he couldn’t believe how loud it was when the new sound system was cranked up the first time during a football practice early this fall.
“My windows literally shake,” he said. “I can’t go downstairs and close the windows and get away from it.”
Neither can Ken James, who lives in a basement apartment at 211 Ave. B. He called the music, and the game-night announcements, “outrageously loud.”
“I can hear the calls in the game, in the basement, with my TV on,” he said.
Karen Frank, a real-estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway who lives at 234 Ave. B, said she was showing a house on Avenue C to a couple this fall, and they happened to look at the house during a weeknight football practice at nearby Daylis.
“And they said, ‘Karen, we couldn’t handle that.'” It affects her livelihood, she said, “and I think probably every Realtor in town would agree with me.”
Joe Hepner, who lives at 229 Ave. B, said he started complaining to school officials early in the season, and for a while, but only for a while, it seemed that the music was being turned down, at least during practice. He lives at 229 with his friend, Mary Baty, whose family has owned the house for decades.
They both knew what it meant to live near the stadium on game nights, Hepner said, but since the installation of the new sound system, it’s been “way, way worse. … This is a quality of life issue for residents in this neighborhood.”
Mark Wahl, athletic director, and Scott Reiter, facilities director for School District 2, did not return phone calls, but School Superintendent Terry Bouck did. When he was first reached a couple of weeks ago, Bouck said he was aware of the complaints and was working on a solution.
“We’ll see what we can do,” he said. “It is a stadium where you have football games, and you have large crowds, and you do have a sound system. We’re looking into it and we’ll see what we can do.”
At the same time, he said, he had to look at the big picture, and he said several times that he needed to balance the wishes of thousands of football fans with the complaints of a handful of people. As for music during practice, Bouck said it was a common accompaniment for NFL and college teams.
“I am listening and trying to do the best we can do, but there is such a wide range of what people find acceptable,” he said.
He also said several times that Daylis Stadium is 80 years old, and that living with the noise of activities is something neighbors should expect.
The neighbors, however, echoed Kessler’s remarks, saying they had grown used to the sound of pep bands and large crowds, but the new sound system changed everything, especially when it started being used for practice as well.
Frank, the real estate agent, said, “One of the most thrilling things for me was listening to the band practicing early in the morning, and I love the roar of the crowd during football games.” But with the new, much louder sound system, and with the music blaring every weeknight, she said, “it was really loud and it was very annoying.”
At least two neighbors, however, had no complaints when Last Best News went knocking on doors one recent afternoon.
Jerry Hereim, who lives at 1409 Third St. W., right across the street from Daylis, said, “It doesn’t bother me. It is loud, though.” Several times during practice, he said, he heard “a few profane languages” during songs, but nothing that upset him.
A block north of there, at 1515 Third St. W., Ron Avent, who’s lived there all his life, said, “they play some good music,” so good that sometimes he’s opened his windows to hear it better. But he also acknowledged that Daylis’ east-side bleachers insulate him from a lot of stadium noise, unlike the residents of Avenue B.
Kriss Erickson and Tom Templeton, who live at 240 Ave. B, had a bit different take on the loud music. Erickson said being in your house during a game now feels “like being there,” and Templeton said the music chosen for football practice is sometimes questionable.
“It’s sure not ‘Louie, Louie’ or ‘Hang on Sloopy,'” he said.
And though neither of them was terribly happy with the new state of affairs, Templeton didn’t think there was much point in complaining.
“I don’t think anything will be done,” he said.
“We know School District 2,” Erickson added. “We’ve lived here a long time. They just don’t care.”
Bouck, however, said the district does take the concerns seriously, and that the sound has been turned down some during games. One neighbor who had complained about the noise personally thanked Wahl for turning the sound down, he said.
Kessler said Bouck told him the same thing, but as for his own complaints to the superintendent, he said, “he wouldn’t budge an inch. He just gave me the impression that we’d have to live with it, that he wasn’t going to do anything about it.”
Bouck also said that a district employee brought a decibel meter to a home game two weeks ago and registered levels of 70 decibels most of the time, occasionally rising as high as 100 decibels.
It’s hard to compare different sounds, but the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says that 70 decibels is considered “loud” and is like hearing busy traffic, a vacuum cleaner or an alarm clock. It said 100 decibels is “extremely loud,” comparable to hearing a hand drill or a pneumatic drill.
Part of the problem seems to be a lack of communication. After Kessler took his complaint to the Police Department, arrangements were made to have a police officer show up with a decibel meter to measure the level of noise during football practice last Thursday, the final practice of the year. When the officer showed up, however, there was no music.
“It was the first time all season they haven’t played music at practice,” Kessler said, and he suspected that someone in the Police Department tipped off Senior High.
Mike Yakawich, the Ward 1 City Council member Kessler also spoke to, and who also showed up that Thursday, thought the lack of music was a sign of success. Yakawich said he had run into acting City Administrator Bruce McCandless the day before the sound was to be measured, and he assumes McCandless called the Police Department, and that somebody there called District 2, resulting in the decision to turn the music off.
Kessler and the other neighbors say they haven’t heard anything that suggests the music will be turned down next year, or that it will be turned off during practice. Kessler and Yakawich are both planning to go to the next meeting of the District 2 School Board, where Yakawich said he’ll recommend redirecting speakers to keep the sound inside the stadium, and maybe using a separate, smaller sound system for music during practices.
“There has been some compromise,” Bouck insisted. “Sometimes you have to keep working on it, but it goes both ways.”
As for the sound during practice, he said, “we’ll have a discussion about that. I think it’s a legitimate concern.”
If he doesn’t get any relief from School District 2, Kessler, said the next step might be seeking changes in city noises ordinances. Under current city code, exemptions from the noise ordinance are granted to “permitted events held in stadiums or parks for which a waiver has been granted,” and to “noise from public parks, schools, and recreational facilities between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.”
James, who lives at 211 Ave. B, just hopes something is done.
“We live by the school, so we’ve got to live with a little bit of it, but this is just over the top,” he said. “That’s my take on this — it’s just not neighborly.”