HELENA -- Montana High School Association executive director Mark Beckman, along with the MHSA staff, have been busy this summer preparing for possible scenarios to the fall sports schedule in regards to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Beckman told MTN Sports in late April, when the MHSA officially canceled the 2019-20 spring sports season, that the MHSA was already looking to the fall in case social distancing and similar guidelines were still in place at that time.
"We’ve already talked as a staff, we’re looking at some alternate plans in case we have a delay to make sure we can still have some season format to make sure we get them done and aren’t bumping into others," Beckman told MTN Sports at the time. "We’re looking at that, but we’re very hopeful that by that time, with all of the things people are doing, we’ll be OK and be able to get back to, maybe never normal, but at least some kind of normalcy."
Though Montana has since transitioned to Phase 2 of Governor Steve Bullock's reopening plan from restrictions that were placed in response to the novel coronavirus, Beckman sent the MHSA member schools a letter in late May that highlighted the organization's stance on guidance regarding reopening sports and activities entering the summer months.
In the letter, Beckman said the MHSA adopted a template created by the state of Oregon, personalizing it to Montana's Phase 2 recommendations, while also taking into consideration the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommendations, as well as the CDC and other similar resources.
"It is important to note that MHSA out-of-season rules, which include summer rules, are unchanged and in effect beginning June 1," Beckman's letter read. "Determining return to participation for your school's activities depends on your school board, school district legal counsel's advice, along with following the Governor's Phase 2 requirements and local health department requirements/guidance."
"MHSA summer rules allow for coaches to coach their own players from June 1 to July 31, however that participation cannot be mandated," the letter continued. "One team versus another team scrimmage is allowed (no tournament or round robin play) during this time with both schools approving and, of course, with approval of that format from the local health department."
Attached in the letter was the official guidance from the Montana High School Association, which recognized different schools and programs may return to athletic activities at various times, specifically based on county and local health department decisions.
The guidance covers specific topics in regards to Phase 2 and Phase 3 of Montana's coronavirus response, including limitations on gatherings and face coverings, as well as cleaning practices surrounding locker rooms, weight rooms and other athletic equipment.
The attachment also breaks apart MHSA activities based on their infection risk. Cross country, track and field, swimming, golf, tennis and speech and drama all fell into the lower infection risk activities.
Volleyball, soccer, softball and basketball fell into the moderate infection risk activities, while football, wrestling, cheerleading, dance/drill and music were considered higher infection risk activities.
Each activity also lists suggested guidelines to follow in order to allow for the safest possible participation.
The entire MHSA re-opening of sports/activities summer guidance can be found by clicking here.