New rules restrict when bands can play

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The Flathead High School marching band plays before the start of the crosstown football game on Friday at Legends Stadium. New high school association rules limit the times bands can play during football games.

Bands are playing less at high school football games due to new rules from the Montana High School Association.

And the limits on band performances are a source of unhappiness for local band directors.

David Barr of Glacier High School and Allen Slater of Flathead High School say they want spectators to understand why marching band students are spending more time sitting down than playing during football games.

The Montana High School Association rule changes spell out that bands are not allowed to play during “live ball” play or between plays while the same team maintains possession of the football.

This includes playing music over public-address systems.

Bands now are allowed to play only during timeouts, between quarters, changes in possession, during halftime and after a touchdown is scored (until teams line up for kickoff).

Brian Michelotti, MHSA assistant director, said the new rules are designed to regulate but not minimize band participation while still providing numerous opportunities to play. While there are rules for band play during indoor competitions such as volleyball and basketball, he said rules for outdoor competitions such as football have only been instituted in recent years.

“We’ve always over the years, based on certain facilities, had complaints when bands played during offensive play or in the end zone,” Michelotti said.

Michelotti said the rules originate from the association’s athletic committee composed of coaches and administrators from around the state.

Barr and Slater say the rules squelch their opportunities to play.

The two veteran band leaders said that, other than halftime, the new restrictions leave about 20- to 30-second intervals for music. That is enough time to play a snippet of a song, Slater said. The flow of a game — if there are many or few changes in possession — will determine the number of opportunities to play.

“What is it next, the crowd gets too loud so they ask the crowd to quite yelling? We’ve been respectful here when we play. We usually wait until the football squads are on the other side of the 50-yard-line,” Slater said. “We’re sitting out there as uniformed spectators. It’s ludicrous.”

Barr said it will take extra convincing to get students in full band uniform and attending games when they cannot play throughout the game.

“It’s hard for us as band directors to convince us this is something they should do,” Barr said. “Part of the game atmosphere is to have that band playing every opportunity they can.”

Slater and Barr have considered and polled their band students about whether they should only arrive to play at halftime and leave afterwards, or be allowed to sit in the student section.

“It’s hard for me as the person in charge to disagree with that,” Barr said. “Truly, I would rather go there the whole game to support the team.”

Slater said marching band is a unit his class studies and is a required band activity. He said this makes it difficult deciding if game participation is a productive use of students’ time.

“It’s hard for me educationally to justify them being there in uniform,” Slater said.

Flathead High School senior Derek Balcom plays saxophone in the marching band. Balcom said the music is not an attempt to distract opposing teams but to energize everyone.

“It amps up both sides,” Balcom said. “Instead we sit there.”

The flag team performs with the band. Flathead seniors Emma Lawrence-Yee, 17 and Haile Ward, 17 are part of the flag team.

“We just don’t get as many opportunities [to perform]. We work very hard to show off what we’ve been working on,” Ward said.

Lawrence-Yee said that during one game they had four times to perform other than halftime.

“If we get 30 seconds that’s exciting, even though we can’t really do that much,” Lawrence-Yee said. “Marching band is something that we all enjoy playing and supporting our team. By doing this they are really restricting us from doing what we love. It’s a bummer.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at

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