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MT high school sports hit the field

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LPHS junior TJ Nordahl (5) spikes the ball in a match against the West Yellowstone Wolverines last fall. PHOTO BY BRANDON WALKER

By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF

MONTANA – Break out your stadium seats, foam fingers and masks—high school athletics are slated to resume this fall in the state of Montana. On July 27 the Montana High School Association (MHSA) released tiered methods and requirements for high schools throughout the state to resume athletic activities this fall. 

MHSA consulted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Federation of High School Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, as well as health officials at various levels throughout MT, while also factoring in all directives from Gov. Steve Bullock in their requirements. 

MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman said it is important for student athletes to return, citing personal growth, plus emotional and mental wellness as some key beneficiaries of athletic activity.

“That seems to be a real issue after spring sports,” Beckman said. “When you take a look at the studies that’re being done that there was a lot of issues with the mental and emotional wellness, so we think that’s important and then of course it’s important for their physical safety too and that’s why the restrictions and requirements and considerations were put into place.”

Athletes will not be required to wear masks while competing on the field of play, however MHSA is consulting the governor’s office regarding any possible mask requirements for athletes on the sidelines. Beckman did clarify that cross country athletes will wear masks in all staging areas prior to the start of a meet. Additionally, MHSA has left the decision to permit fans at athletic contests in the hands of each individual school, while abiding by any restrictions and receiving input from local health officials.

“I think it’s so important now [for us] to follow through,” Beckman said. “Some of these things may not be what somebody wants to do, but hopefully they will do it so that those individuals on the floor, on the court on the course will be able to continue to play.”

“Being physically active and developing a competitive mindset is extremely important in my opinion, but probably the most crucial element is student athletes learning what it means to be a part of a team and creating camaraderie with their peers,” said Lone Peak High School Athletic Director John Hannahs. He continued to state that the safety and well-being of student athletes will come before anything else as athletics resume. 

MHSA’s aforementioned requirements include: social distancing when feasible, frequent hand washing, sanitizing of equipment including the ball, no shared drinks, eliminating contests with out-of-state schools, limiting group sizes at practices and eliminating competitions that would draw multiple teams outside of golf and cross country competitions. 

“This pandemic certainly has made everything much more complicated, but I am confident that we will be able to work together with our staff and make the best of it,” Hannahs said.

LPHS varsity football coach Adam Farr is eagerly awaiting the season. He said summer workouts have drawn the largest participation that he has ever witnessed during his tenure with the Big Horns. 

“I’m super excited, you know our squad is definitely on the younger side but there’s some excellent athletes amongst the group and they’re all dying to actually have a season so it’s outstanding to hear that it’s currently on schedule,” he said.

While Farr recognized there will be some hurdles to overcome, including instances such as dressing before a game in a locker room setting, he doesn’t believe it will significantly impact competition on the playing field. 

“They’re ready to get out there and do something,” Farr said. “They’re tired of being cooped up.”

Farr’s sentiments about his teams’ anticipation were echoed by LPHS varsity volleyball coach Missy Botha: “The girls are over the moon about actually getting to play. They understand it won’t be a traditional season, but their enthusiasm hasn’t waned.”

Botha recognized that restricted crowd capacities will be an adjustment, but she believes it will work in the Lady Big Horns favor this season. “… They have to be their own No. 1 fans,” she said. “Positivity within themselves and with their teammates is something I stress on a regular basis. That mentality is going to pay off for us especially in tight matches.”

Of the five tiers that MHSA outlined in their plan, the fall athletic season is set to commence at Tier 1 and Beckman noted that MHSA had received mainly positive commentary on July 27, the day that the plan was released.

Tier 1 entails schools beginning their athletic practices and game schedules when originally planned. As a result, LPHS is slated to host their first athletic contest on Aug. 28 as the varsity boys and girls soccer teams take on Hamilton, followed by a home contest for the varsity girls volleyball team on Aug. 29 and a road varsity football matchup on the same day. 

The other four tiers of MHSA’s plan all involve a delayed start to the season or a disruption in competition during the course of the athletic season. Beckman noted that these tiers would likely only occur due to another stay-at-home order or similar shutdowns as directed by the Governor. 

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) requires coaches to complete certain coaching training courses through their online education system prior to coaching high school athletes. NFHS recently released a free COVID-19 coaching course on their website, which Beckman said he will strongly encourage all coaches to complete, but it is not required at this time.

“But I think that we have to make sure we focus in on what the most important thing is, that they’re playing out on that field or playing out on that court or running out on you know the course,” Beckman said. “I think that’s probably our most important thing, so even though it may feel a little different at least those kids are getting that opportunity.”

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