(Editor's note: This story will be updated)
HELENA -- Play ball, Montana.
The Montana High School Association released its guidelines to return to fall activities on Monday morning, announcing the directives, requirements and considerations for schools to compete in activities this fall. MHSA executive director Mark Beckman sent the guidelines to schools across Montana, less than three weeks before high school activities are scheduled to begin.
Golf practices are scheduled to begin on Thursday, Aug. 13, while football, volleyball, soccer and cross country will begin the following day. Golf tournaments can be held on Saturday, Aug. 15, while the other sports can hold competitions on Thursday, Aug. 27.
Following consultation with national, state and local experts, including the Center for Disease Control, the National Federation of High School Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's directives, plus state and local health departments, the MHSA has deemed that the "resumption of sports and other activities is crucial to the growth, development and mental and emotional wellness of our Montana youth," the organization said in Monday's letter to schools.
Schools must adhere to the MHSA guidelines, as well as directives from the state and local health departments, in order for the resumption of sports in Montana. The MHSA has created five tiers for its return to sports, with Tier 1 planning to start as scheduled. As the tiers progress, more and more changes would be made to the activities, including the cancellation of non-conference games, shortening conference seasons and, eventually, playing some games, potentially round robin play, in Tier 5.
For more information on the tiers, please click here.
The lone cancellation to date is the all-state band, choir and orchestra music festival, which was scheduled for Oct. 14-16. It will not be rescheduled during the 2020-21 school year.
Each sport also has specific guidelines and requirements regarding competition.
Football, volleyball and soccer will not be allowed to have multi-team events, such as triangulars or invitational tournaments.
Dual meets and multi-team events are encouraged in golf, with requirements of: 1) no practice rounds, 2) a maximum of 90 players on an 18-hole course and 45 players on a 9-hole course, 3) shotgun starts with teams playing together, grouped by school.
Multi-team events are also welcomed in cross country, though no more than 200 participants are allowed, and teams must remain in their own staging area. Only 25 runners will be allowed on the start line, and once the race is completed, athletes must return to the team bus.
The admission of fans to activities will be determined by each individual school in accordance with their local city-county health departments. Schools may have to submit plans to the local health department for hosting events.
The MHSA also released sport-specific guidelines and considerations, with each list meant to "decrease potential exposure to respiratory droplets by encouraging social distancing, limiting participation in administrative tasks to essential personnel and allowing for appropriate protective equipment."
Social distancing is at the forefront of the individual activities' guidelines, with an intent to limit participation of specific moments of the games. For example, the team box in football will be extended on both sides of the field to the 10-yard lines with players required to maintain social distancing at all times.
In volleyball, the home team must provide a separate basket of balls for the visitors, and teams will no longer switch benches between sets.
To view those guidelines, click the corresponding sport below. The general requirements and considerations for all activities are also listed below.
2020-21 MHSA requirements/considerations for COVID-19
- Workouts/practices should be conducted in “pods” / “bubbles” of participants with same players working out together to limit overall exposure.
- Before, during and after the contest, players, coaches, and administrators should wash and sanitize their hands as often as possible.
- No out of state competition or teams traveling from out of state for competition, unless it is in a dual format and approved by the MHSA executive director.
- Always maintain social distancing of six feet while on the field/court of play when possible.
- Everyone must have their own beverage container that is not shared. Safe handling practices should be adhered during hydration, which includes refilling, retrieval and identification of water source.
- Time-outs (if applicable) may be extended to a maximum of two minutes in length for safe hydration practices. Social distancing requirements must always be followed.
- Cloth facial coverings are allowed for players, coaches and officials. Facial coverings must be a single solid color and unadorned. Face Coverings must be worn per the governor’s directive.
- Gloves are permissible for all players, coaches and officials.
- The ball should be cleaned and sanitized throughout the contest / event as recommended by the ball manufacturer.
- Administrators must limit the number of non-essential personnel who are on the field/player surface area throughout the contest.
- Attendance at MHSA events is dependent on host site and local health department guidelines and restrictions.
- A family’s role in maintaining safety guidelines for themselves and others is very important. Make sure your child and immediate household members are free from illness before participating in practice and competition (if there is doubt stay home). Provide personal items for your child and clearly label them.