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Smoke, air quality the latest deterrent for Montana's high school sports seasons

Posted at 4:23 PM, Sep 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 19:48:54-04

HELENA -- After battling coronavirus guidelines just for the opportunity to play sports this fall, Montana high schools are now left dealing with smoke and poor air conditions.

The latest wave in cancellations and postponements, scratching heads to reschedule, of course due to the smoky conditions you can see across the Treasure State. Only a handful of events have been affected by that, but as those wildfires continue to rage on the west coast, and that smoke makes its way to Montana, there are coaches, athletic directors and local county health departments wondering what the future may hold, even as soon as this weekend.

“(As of Thursday morning) there hasn’t been that many so far. This week everyone is a little on edge because of the heavy smoke that came in on Monday," explained Mark Beckman, the executive director of the Montana High School Association. "It’s starting to move out, at least in some of the western areas. We still have some unhealthy air. I checked the website this morning and there was still some unhealthy air over there, but in most cases it’s trending down, so we’re hoping that by (Friday) they’ll be able to play their games.”

LIST: Smoke, poor air quality cancel sporting events

Beckman and the MHSA don’t determine whether games should be played or postponed due to the air conditions across the state, but rather leave those decisions to the local level, where handy references come in play.

“What we do is we send out the guidance from the state health department, and if you go on to (www.svc.mt.gov) the website there, they have some great information there. They do a fantastic job in tracking air quality throughout the state, and it’s every hour from these different reporting stations," said Beckman. "They can look at that, and then schools, in conjunction with their local health department, can make decisions on whether they should practice outside, maybe move inside, and either play the game or postpone the game and look to reschedule.”

“The areas we may have a problem is where you don’t have a reporting station," continued Beckman. "You can have some heavy smoke, but go 20 miles down the road and have no smoke whatsoever, it’s amazing how that works. There’s also, on these charts, the visibility — you pick a landmark that’s visible, whether it’s 2-5 miles, 5-8 miles, and they can use visibility as a factor, too.”

Schools and teams do notify the MHSA when a postponement due to poor air quality occurs, and then the participating programs grab their calendars to look for a consensus date and time to host the rescheduled contests.

“They’ll let us know whether they’re able to reschedule or not. If they don’t and can’t reschedule, whether that’s football, soccer, whatever, then it counts as a no-contest. It just doesn’t count as a win or loss for either team, then the conference will have to determine how to seed into their playoffs by using those records,” said Beckman.

It’s another roadblock, a hurdle in an already unique year, but Montana’s high school sports programs have held strong in the face of adversity, as they again look to adapt and overcome.