BILLINGS — A high school athletic director’s day is constantly filled with decisions that need to be made. Monday, when the Montana High School Association released its plan for fall sports, unleashed a whole new whirlwind.
Schedules, a headache for most ADs to begin with, have to be re-worked because multi-team events, popular in golf, cross country and volleyball, will be limited. Contact has to be made with the various county health departments, who set their own guidelines to follow.
Finding bus drivers, volunteers, sanitizing materials, devising distancing protocols … it all has to come together just as teams gear up for their first practices, which are set to begin Aug. 13 for golf and the following day for the other sports.
So many questions, so little time, it seems.
“This created a lot of questions, to be honest with you,” Laurel AD Dom Vergara said Wednesday, in between his many other phone calls and meetings. “I really appreciate the other ADs and how hard everybody is working. We’re working around the clock, really.”
Monday’s announcement by the MHSA that, yes, fall sports would go on — with restrictions, of course, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic — was naturally met with enthusiasm by coaches, athletes and school officials. Now comes the hard part of planning and coordinating the actual staging of events while adhering to MHSA, state and county requirements designed to keep safe the participants, officials, workers and whatever fans will be allowed into the events.
Yellowstone County health officials are urging local ADs to come up with one county-wide plan so there is consistency from Class AA to Class C schools.
Many questions are yet to be answered. Some probably haven’t been thought of, yet. And even then, questions that have solutions this week might be negated the next.
Fluidity and flexibility are the key words.
“The bottom line is I’m excited that we’re going to have some form of activities this fall,” Billings Central Activities Director Mike Ryan said from Polson, where he’s making phone calls and sitting in on Zoom meetings while he helps out at his son’s ranch. “People need to realize it’s not going to look like it did a year ago. It just can’t at this point. You’re going to follow the social distancing and the mask guidelines that are put in place by the NFHS (National Federation of High School Associations) and MHSA and the plan that we develop from the county.
“The big thing that people need to understand is that we have these activities, which is definitely a positive thing. What they’re going to look like, we’re not sure. But we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize what we have now.”
Bus rides, on-field celebrations, and what to do about cramped locker rooms are all under consideration. For instance, Vergara said, football players may no longer be able to gather with friends and family on the field after games, a longtime tradition seemingly everywhere at every level. Instead, it might be straight to the bus — or buses, depending on space — or straight home.
Overnight trips with stays at a hotel present another dilemma. And how about spacing in the stands? Do you just allow household groups to sit together? How many more volunteers will be required at events to man sanitizing stations and to continuously wipe down playing equipment?
Those are just a few examples to show that while the return of fall sports might signal a return to normal, the seasons themselves will be anything but. Radio broadcasts and live streaming from the NFHS broadcasting system could be "important tools" for fans, Vergara suggested.
Eastern A activities directors are set to meet Wednesday in Lewistown, where some of these questions will be answered. Until then, the calls and Zooms will continue.
“Were doing the best we can,” Vergara said. “I hope people respect that we’re trying. Just finding volunteers, finding bus drivers, finding substitute teachers, finding people who want to be out there and in the communities, these places where there is some interaction with a lot of kids, I think it’s going to be a challenge. You’re kind of on the front lines of this deal in some ways.
“We’re just thankful, just being positive that we have the opportunity to give this a shot. We just want to do it the right way right from the beginning and try to limit the spread as much as we can. We should learn a lot here, and I hope this brings people together more than anything. Sports is a great way to bring people together but it needs to happen in the right way. If everybody’s doing their part it should bring everybody together.”