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Planning underway for wrestling tournament

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | February 5, 2021 7:00 AM

Libby Public School officials are considering hosting a wrestling tournament, which could draw hundreds of participants and spectators from around the state.

Acknowledging the risk of holding the event during the coronavirus pandemic, administrators said they have drafted a plan meant to mitigate the spread of the virus. Athletic Director Jim Germany presented the proposal during a Feb. 1 school board meeting.

Libby school officials would invite wrestling teams from 12 schools to the Feb. 26-27 divisional tournament. In total, 170 wrestlers would be eligible to compete in the event in the Libby Middle High School gym. When factoring in coaches and team managers, the tournament could host up to 244 participants.

Germany said the number is likely to be lower. He expects only 140 wrestlers to compete.

Under the terms of the district’s plan, the school would host up to two spectators per wrestler. The district would hold half of the tournament's weight classes on Feb. 26 and the other half on 27.

Public Health Manager Jennifer McCully has said there are no local mandates that would prohibit the tournament, according to the plan. Considering the athletic events the district has already hosted this year, Germany said the school was well equipped for the tournament.

The two fans the district would allow for each wrestler would only be able to attend the tournament on the day their wrestler was competing. This means the school would host, at most, 170 fans each day. According to the plan Germany presented, the ground-floor bleachers alone at the Libby gym can accommodate up to 220 spectators grouped in socially distanced pods.

While waiting to compete, teams would sit isolated from each other in the second-floor bleachers. Wrestlers from the same school would not have to socially distance because teams have been traveling and practicing together. Since the upstairs bleachers can seat up to 650 people, there would be enough room to distance teams from each other.

Since the start of the season in January, only three wrestlers in the western class A conference have tested positive for the virus. Germany said these wrestlers were all infected by family members.

Although administrators would be able to regulate wrestlers and spectators while they were on the campus, school board members worried the visitors might spread the virus while in town. Germany pointed out that each set of spectators and wrestlers would likely only be in Libby for one day.

To keep students and staff from coming in contact with wrestlers during the tournament, Germany said the school could either close off the gym or switch to a remote learning schedule. While closing classrooms would not be ideal, Germany said the middle high school teachers have improved the way they conduct remote learning since last spring.

Considering that the school administrators have focused on keeping students in classrooms during the pandemic, Superintendent Ron Goodman said he was in favor of isolating the gym rather than switching to a virtual schedule.

Germany said the middle high school could make accommodations for physical education classes and lunch periods, which normally used the gym.

“It looks like there’s been some serious planning,” said board chair Ellen Johnson. “That will keep our kids safe and everyone else’s kids safe.