HELENA - Days before the first official competition of the 2020 fall season, the Helena High cross country program has been temporarily suspended due to a positive case of coronavirus within the program.
Helena activities director Tim McMahon confirmed the news, which was first reported by the Helena Independent Record.
"I can confirm that we did have a positive participant in a program at Helena High School, the cross country program, an individual tested positive," McMahon told MTN Sports. "The first thing we’ll do as a district is always err on the side of caution with kids and make sure we’re keeping them safe. So even before the county health probably knew, we had suspended the program at Helena High. We knew we had a positive case, we’re going to suspend it, and then, that suspension is largely to allow the county health department to do its job, to do the contact tracing. Then we wait for them to tell us what’s the next step: How long is an individual out? What other individuals might it impact? When can we re-start that program?"
While numerous questions remain to be answered, the Bengals have halted all activities -- practices and competition. Helena High was scheduled for a crosstown time trial against rival Helena Capital on Saturday afternoon.
McMahon spoke for the entire Helena High program -- coaches, athletes and fans -- on Tuesday, expressing the disappointment in having to shut down activities before the first competition.
"I think they were eight practices in of the mandatory 10 before they can complete. We all held our breath, I don’t think anybody thought it would be this soon, this early," he said. "In some ways, it does give us an opportunity to go through the process, how long will this take? We’ll get them back going. As soon as the all clear is given, for the members who can, practice will resume immediately. We’ll get going again."
While McMahon couldn't provide a timetable, stressing the activities office and Helena High program await official word from the Lewis and Clark County health department on the next steps, he commended the program for taking the proper action in reporting the positive case.
Multiple golf invitationals have already been held across Montana, with the other fall sports -- cross country, football, soccer and volleyball -- joining the action this weekend. Helena High's isn't believed to be the only positive COVID-19 case in a high school student-athlete, according to sources, as the level of concern continues to grow as the Treasure State hopes for a successful school year, athletics and beyond.
"I think there’s concern with anybody attached to schools, not just sports, but educational plans in the first place. Specifically with sports, I’m confident in saying that every Class AA activities director is concerned, not just about sports, but about all the activities we manage — dance, cheerleading, music — and the tentacles that this spreads," said McMahon. "If it was down the road some place, how flexible can we be? I do believe that everybody attached to activities worries about, ‘Will we have to shut down? Shut down for a week? Shut down for two weeks? Do we shut down a season again?' We all worry about it all the time."
"It’s just really difficult. You’re constantly planning without really knowing what tomorrow is going to bring," he continued. "Every moment is about being flexible and reacting to what we have here: Here’s our plan, put it in place, evaluate that plan. The truth is, it’s probably going to happen again, so can we adjust it to do it better the next time?"