GREAT FALLS — The coronavirus continues to chip away at high school spring sports every week, and coaches for those same sports at the college level have to find a way to still recruit without seeing performances in-person.
Earlier this week, the Montana High School Association announced it would extend its suspension of spring sports until April 24 due to the coronavirus, cutting at least another few weeks out of an already shortened spring season.
It’s certain to make things tough for high schoolers looking for that breakthrough season to get recruited for college. University of Providence track and field head coach Tony Arntson said it’s almost equally tough to build new relationships without face-to-face interaction.
"You're almost trying to set plans for different times. OK, what if they open it up April 24? They turn us loose. So we got to have a plan for what are we going to do April 24 until May 31," Arnston said. "So, really, we're kind of putting together two or three different plans, very flexible, obviously. But I do think you have to have a plan, because when it does come every college coach in the region is going to be doing the same gosh darn thing."
Arntson admits he’s new to college recruiting after spending nearly the past 30 years coaching at the high school level. The Argos' track and field program has been getting steady commitments through remote signings and video chats, but with the coronavirus changing the economy at breakneck pace, sudden financial hardships could make it difficult for families to even send their son or daughter to college.
"The biggest thing, I think, is going to be the retention of it. Making sure that we get them to school August 1, that that's going to be the big thing," Arntson said. "Sometimes it's awfully easy to do something while you're sitting at your house and you sign a piece of paper and send it away."
At least for track and field programs, recruiting athletes doesn’t require as much of an eye test as a team sport like softball. A 200-meter time is a 200-meter time.
"I think track and field makes it much easier because it is very objective, and really what we want is we want kids that want to compete at this level. They might not be all-staters or, you know, the all-American type kids in high school. But kids that want to compete at this level, we're going to go after them and give them that opportunity," Arntson said.