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MHSA says fall sports are on; Flathead, Glacier ADs on board

by Fritz Neighbor
Daily Inter Lake | July 28, 2020 12:34 PM

The Montana High School Association said all systems are go Monday, with executive director Mark Beckman releasing a statement confirming sports will happen, with certain requirements pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It means that high school football teams in the state will open fall practice as scheduled on Aug. 14, along with volleyball, cross country and soccer teams. Competition begins Aug. 15 for state golf teams and Aug. 27 for football, soccer, cross country and football.

The main limitation is that events, with certain exceptions in cross country and golf, are not to be multi-event.

That’s the usual scenario in football, which like the rest of these sports is rated “Tier 1,” though it is a high-contact sport that makes social distancing impossible.

General requirements and considerations for all sports include:

n That practices be conducted in “pods” or “bubbles” of participants to limit exposure;

n That timeouts can be increased to two minutes to ensure athletes get safely hydrated, without sharing a water bottle;

n That administrators limit the number of non-essential personnel on the playing surface.

The MHSA lists all the sports as Tier 1; masks are required per the Governor’s directive and golf and cross country dual meets are recommended and encouraged.

Both Glacier High School activities director Mark Dennehy and Bryce Wilson, who holds the same position at Flathead High School, were encouraged and optimistic.

“I think it’s good to get guidance so we can make plans and hopefully make things work,” Dennehy said. “I think it was a step in the right direction and now we’ll see what happens.”

It is notable that the decision comes while coronavirus cases are spiking in Montana; far fewer had been infected when the MHSA canceled spring sports on April 22.

“It’s around,” Dennehy said. “It’s interesting – we’re all in the same boat, where we have someone that’s been touched by it. You have to work through it and pray to God it doesn’t touch someone in a significant way.”

“I think we know a little bit more now,” Wilson said. “Part of it is we have more testing. And nobody knew how to proceed safely in the spring. It was all brand new – how do you keep the kids safe?

“Obviously this is not a complete picture – it changes daily. But it feels like now we have a better understanding of the process.”

The MHSA noted that attendance at sanctioned events is dependent on the host site and local health department guidelines and restrictions. Schools may have to submit a plan for fan attendance to their local health department.

Multi-team cross country events are possible with restrictions that include: no more than 200 participants; no more than 25 runners at the (staggered) start; face masks be worn in the marshalling areas; competitors leave the finish line immediately for their team bus.

Golf competitions that are multi-team have to be limited to 90 players on an 18-hole course and 45 on a 9-hole course, and it is mandated that schools play as one tee time – that is, no mixing of foursomes or fivesomes among schools.

Like cross country, competitors can not gather afterward but rather have to head to the bus.

The MHSA also noted that the All-State band, choir and orchestra music festival on Oct. 14-16 has been canceled due to high-risk of transmission and will not be rescheduled in 2020-21.

The rest of the fall activities are, for now, a go.

“I’m excited to have the kids back,” Wilson said. “Every kid that’s come through the door (at Flathead) this summer, we’ve taken their temperature and made sure its safe. Just seeing the kids come in the door has been exciting, and seeing their excitement has been great.

“As you can see we are in Tier 1. It’s a fluid situation, but I think that’s helpful to have a scaled approach to it, rather than it’s either on or it’s off.”

Dennehy said his coaches are happy everything is on.

“I think in general most coach coaches feel that way,” he said. “They understand it’s just a game and they also understand that we need to function – if we can, let’s move forward and function.

“It’d kind of that slippery slope and we’re all standing on it. It’s not a black and white issue, and it’s challenging.”

“We’re going to be in the gray rather than all off or all on,” Wilson added. “Now it’s a matter of learning to work in that gray area and keep the kids safe, and the teachers and coaches.”