BILLINGS — A group of high school administrators have asked the Montana High School Association to consider further postponing the start of winter sports, but as of now the schedule will begin as planned.
MHSA executive director Mark Beckman told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com on Friday that superintendents from Montana’s Class AA schools petitioned for winter sports to be pushed back to a Jan. 18 start date. Despite this, the first events, previously delayed due to COVID-19, will start Jan. 2, Beckman said.
Beckman said the MHSA and its health consultants — including state medical officer Dr. Gregory Holzman, representatives from the Association of Montana Public Health Officials (AMPHO) as well as three pediatricians — will consider the superintendents’ concerns the second week of January.
“We’re going to look at what the numbers are after Jan. 6,” Beckman said. “That’s when we would see if there’s a big uptick after the holidays. We’ll see where the numbers are, we’ll see how the first week of competition goes and then we’ll meet with that group on Jan. 7 and report to our executive board at the regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 11.”
Winter sports schedules for boys and girls basketball, wrestling and swimming typically would be under way, but concerns about rising numbers of virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Montana forced the MHSA to postpone until after the turn of the calendar.
Beckman declined to say what the superintendents’ specific concerns are regarding their request. Attempts to reach School District 2 superintendent Greg Upham on Friday were unsuccessful.
Beckman said the relative success of the fall sports season gives the MHSA confidence in its ability to conduct the winter season, though it doesn’t come without the usual vigilance.
“What we have looked at when we went through fall sports — because there was a concern of even having fall sports and trying to move that — we proceeded cautiously,” Beckman said. “We got the season in and it went pretty well. There were challenges, but it went well. And that’s the same approach we’re taking with winter sports.
“There are a few different dynamics with indoor sports, but we’re still proceeding cautiously and putting in some very strict requirements and considerations. How these games and meets and matches are going to run are completely different than what you’ve seen in the past, but it’s for that reason, to make sure there’s an opportunity for kids to participate but also minimize the transmission of the disease.
“We will take the information that we have, present it to our board and then our board will evaluate it and make the decisions that they think are the best at that particular time.”
Beckman said achieving balance this winter is again one of the MHSA’s priorities — to continue to give kids the opportunity to compete while implementing all the necessary safety measures in an effort to keep schools and communities as protected as possible.
There is more than just sports at stake, he said.
“There is value in mental health and physical wellness,” Beckman said. “We want to look at a balance. Yes, it’s going to look different than what we’ve done in the past. But we just try to find that balance.”