BUTTE -- The Montana High School Association has decided to cancel its high school basketball state tournaments, which were being held in Billings, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula, the MHSA announced on Friday evening.
At the conclusion of the Belt-Melstone girls semifinal in Missoula, which Belt won 46-26, the PA announcer in Dahlberg Arena read a statement that the Class C tournaments would be suspended.
With the growing threat and concern over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), MHSA executive director Mark Beckman said canceling the tournaments was the only option. The news comes after Montana Governor Steve Bullock announced in a release that four Montanans had tested positive for the virus.
"The Montana High School Association has no choice but to cancel the remainder of our state basketball tournaments," Beckman said in a release at 9:01 p.m. Friday evening. "Though this is not the result that the MHSA wants, the Association will designate the winners of tonight's semifinals as co-state champions."
"The MHSA and each host facility will address the refund of all session adult and student tickets for those individuals able to produce a ticket," the release continued.
According to a report by USA Today, Montana was the only state in the nation holding high school sporting events without attendance restrictions.
Earlier Friday, prior to Bullock's release, Beckman and the MHSA sent a release announcing the tournaments would go on after a conference call with the state's health department.
"After a conference call with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services at 4:30 p.m. (Friday), it was confirmed that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state of Montana," the release said. Beckman also said in the release that, "because there are no confirmed cases at this time, the recommendation is not to cancel the state basketball tournaments. They are proceeding as scheduled. However, the MHSA is closely monitoring any changes in COVID-19 status in the state."
Dozens of conference tournaments, and even national tournaments across the country were canceled on Thursday, including a pair that affected Montana teams — the Big Sky Conference championships in Boise, where the Montana State men and women, plus the Montana men were still competing, plus the NAIA Division I men’s and women’s basketball championships, which were to be held in Kansas City, Mo. and Billings.
Teams from Rocky Mountain College, Carroll College, the University of Providence and Montana Western were set to compete in the NAIA Championships.
The MHSA’s decision also came after the Montana University System announced Thursday that its campuses across Montana would, “in every instance possible, transition all in-class instruction to online or other remote teaching modalities that do not require in-class presence.” That transition is set to begin on March 23.