Delayed start to winter athletics as administrators work on COVID measures

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | January 1, 2021 7:00 AM

Better late than never, high school winter sports seasons are set to kick off on Jan. 2, nearly a month behind the usual schedule. School administrators are taking extra precautions this year to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading within indoor arenas.

Jim Germany, Libby Public Schools athletic director, said seating capacity in home gyms will be limited to 25 percent. Speaking at a Dec. 14 school board meeting, Germany said visiting spectators will get seated on the bleachers along the eastern end of the gym. Hometown fans will sit on the west side. Families attending games together are encouraged to sit in groups.

To ensure proper social distancing, the district has posted signs on select bleacher seats inviting spectators “to pull up a stump.” Germany said fans will only be allowed to sit on the marked seats.

Already, the stump system has helped keep students socially distanced in the mornings while they wait for classes. Germany said between 250 and 300 students regularly wait in the gym before school starts.

“That’s been a godsend for [paraprofessionals] and monitors because they were fighting them all the time, trying to separate the kids,” he told school board members.

All spectators hoping to get a ticket to a winter game must go through the school’s online portal. While the parents of players will still have first dibs on tickets, Germany said they would not receive them automatically as they had during the fall sports season. After giving out up to six seats for each player’s parents, the remaining available spots would be opened up to the rest of the community.

This new system will make it easier for school staff to monitor attendance at games.

To reduce the number of spectators at each game, Germany said schools will employ a mirror scheduling system. This means that when Libby boys play at home, the girls would play the opposing team on the road the same night.

“I hate the mirror, I hate what it does to our fan base. It’s going to kill our student section,” said Germany. “But it's going to keep our fan size down low enough to manage it.”

In hopes of isolating teams, officials reduced the number of tournaments this season. Germany said it would play to the advantage of some Libby teams such as the wrestling squad. This year the Greenchain will host four duals, which had not been possible in the past since other schools preferred going to large tournaments rather than one-on-one matchups.

At the time of the Dec. 14 school board meeting, Germany said the girls basketball roster had 21 members, enough to field three teams. The wrestling team will take to the mat with 16 students if all remain eligible.

Libby boys basketball team will play Frenchtown at home on Jan. 2. The Lady Loggers will play the Broncs away that day.

Wrestling kicks off on Jan. 8 with an away game at Polson. Speech and drama started their season on Dec. 1. MHSA guidelines require their competitions to be conducted virtually.

According to Montana High School Association guidelines, basketball state tournament dates are scheduled for March 11 -13. Divisionals tournaments for wrestling are set for March 5-6.