High school sports governing board releases winter pandemic guidelines

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | November 20, 2020 7:00 AM

In hopes of flattening the coronavirus pandemic curve, the Montana High School Association executive board decided to delay the start of winter sports.

Under the new guidelines, practices for high school basketball, swimming and wrestling are set to begin on Dec. 7. The board delayed competitions until Jan. 2. In most years, schools schedule their first winter games for the beginning of December.

Even though the statewide association has given the go-ahead for winter sports, Jim Germany, Libby Public School athletic director, said Libby’s season would depend on the severity of the virus locally. If the district has to transition to fully remote schedules this winter, Germany said schools would not be able to hold extracurricular activities.

Already, officials suspended Libby’s middle school basketball season after one game, according to Germany.

Under the MHSA guidelines released on Nov. 4, no multi-team tournaments or events will be allowed during the basketball season. Teams are limited to an 18 game season with conference games taking precedence over non-conference events. State tournament dates are scheduled for March 11-13.

During regular wrestling season contests, only individual duals will be held. Teams may hold up to two duals a day. When holding more than one dual a day, teams must be kept separate to meet social distancing guidelines. Between duals, facilities must be cleaned and sanitized.

For smaller squads, multi-team mixer events with no more than 40 wrestlers may be held if approved by county health officials. Each wrestler can only compete twice during these events and must wear a clean singlet for each match. While not competing, wrestlers must wear masks.

MHSA guidelines ask schools to schedule mixers at least five to seven days apart. This time interval would allow students to begin showing symptoms if they were exposed to the virus.

Due to the relatively small size of Libby’s wrestling squad, Germany said the school may be able to host mixers with teams.

MHSA guidelines prohibit both in and out of state invitational tournaments for wrestling.

Divisionals tournaments for wrestling are scheduled for Feb. 26-27. The state tournament is set for March 5-6. MHSA officials have yet to determine sites and formats for the state championship.

Speech and drama practices began on Oct. 19. Meets will kick off on Dec. 1. MHSA guidelines require speech and drama competitions to be conducted virtually.

Under the new guidelines, MHSA leaves spectator limits up to local health departments.

Germany said any event with over 50 percent spectator capacity currently requires approval from Lincoln County health department officials. Given the ongoing spike in coronavirus cases in the county, however, he expected the percentage of fans allowed into events to drop drastically.