Plan to resume fall sports despite pandemic

The Montana High School Association (MHSA) released a plan for returning to sports in light of the coronavirus. The 20-page document details restrictions for fans and athletes during games, but emphasized youth sports will return for the fall school year.

“MHSA Executive Board believes the resumption of sports and other activities is crucial to the growth, development, and mental and emotional wellness of our Montana youth,” the release stated. “These requirements, both general and activity specific, attempt to reduce the possibility of transmission of coronavirus for our student activity participants and for coaches, officials and fans of MHSA activities.”

MHSA canceled the All State Band, Choir and Orchestra Music Festival Oct. 14-16 due to concerns of high-risk transmissions through the playing of instruments and singing. The Festival will not be rescheduled during the 2020-2021 school year. 

MHSA divided out the different sports scenarios into five tiers, which vary from a season starting normally, to a delayed start or pause in the sports season. All of the tiers included some games to be played, but noted if conditions are bad, playoffs and conference games are likely to be cancelled. 

Per MHSA rules, players must train in “bubbles,” so they can safely isolate from the rest of the team. Water stations must be sanitized and group water stations won’t be used due to the sharing of equipment. The attendance of fans will be allowed at the discretion of the school in consultation with the local health department.

Out of all the sports planned, volleyball received the most regulations. Players are only allowed to warm up for games with an individual ball, and each team receives their own set of equipment. If a ball goes into the stands of a game, it must be cleaned and sanitized before it can be used again. 

At the Missoula County Public Schools board meeting July 28, Superintendent Rob Watson said middle school sports are likely to be canceled, but high schools are a different story.

“I would recommend no extra curricular activities for K-8th grade [under phase one],” said Watson. “Even though I might recommend no activities at high school, we are gonna sort that out with MSHA.”

The plan has to also be approved by the Missoula City-County Health Department who has not released any guidance on the topic yet. 

Seeley-Swan High School expects to play some sort of sporting events this year. Principal Kellen Palmer said they will follow all guidelines set by MHSA and the Health Department. The pre-season sports meeting will be Aug. 11 with practices starting Aug. 14.

“We are really excited that our student athletes are going to get the opportunity to have sports,” Principal Kellen Palmer said. “This too will be a very fluid situation that we will monitor closely to keep the safety of our student athletes, coaches and community as the first priority.”   

Seeley Lake Elementary is currently working with other administrators in the Copper League to make a plan for fall sports. SLE Superintendent Josh Gibbs said there is a concern about interacting with other districts and the increased risk for exposure.

If fall sports and extracurricular activities are offered, SLE will implement the MHSA return to play guidelines. If competition outside of the school is not available, SLE will explore intramural sport options. 

Gibbs added that students and families that choose the 100% remote learning option through midterms of the first quarter will not be eligible for sports or other after school activities.

“If you are choosing the online remote option, I understand your concerns,” said Gibbs. “However, it is very counterproductive if you opt out of the school part and then you come and play athletics or do any of those activities after.”

To read the complete MHSA guidelines visit


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