MISSOULA — Never has it been so tough to run a high school athletic department in Montana.
The dreaded coronavirus pandemic has knocked a lot of folks on their heels. But most of us don't have to worry about a bevvy of eager teens like Scott Stiegler, who just took over as athletic director at Florence.
"You go to bed thinking about it and wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it and it's what wakes you up in the morning," Stiegler told the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. "How we deal with this pandemic is causing everybody sleep loss I think."
Stiegler's task at hand is to meet Montana High School Association guidelines in providing a safe environment for his football, volleyball and soccer (co-op) athletes. For the Falcons to get to their football opener at Boulder a week from Friday, he may have to reserve two coach buses for social distancing and make arrangements to haul equipment separately, essentially doubling expenses.
Then when the Falcons make their home debut a week later, Stiegler may need to break it to the parents of players that they may not be able to attend. That's 19 days away so it's not set in stone, but it's looking like a distinct possibility.
"It's like a college assignment where you have an ominous task ahead of you," Stiegler offered. "It's time to roll up your sleeves and if you want to play, you have to play by the rules."
With the Grizzlies and Bobcats taking the fall off, all eyes are on high school athletics in Montana. Will teams start their seasons and then lose them halfway through? Will they even make it to the proverbial starting line?
Geez, I hope so.
"It's a double-edged sword," Stiegler said. "The kids need that physical outlet and the structure of school and athletics. Does the pandemic override that or is the pandemic just a mosquito that's buzzing around your head?
"You need to keep the kids safe and try to maintain some normalcy. You have to try to balance that and do the best you can."
Florence school officials meet with the Ravalli County Public Health Department almost weekly. They listen to updated guidelines and press conferences by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and then tweak their plan moving forward.
Though these school officials are all highly educated professionals, it's still pretty tough. Let's just say anyone would have a hard time mastering a game when the rules change weekly.
"Sometimes we leave meetings with more questions than we came in with," Stiegler offered.
Kudos to all the coaches and athletic directors in Montana trying to make this thing work. Next time you start thinking you have it hard because you have to wear a mask to the grocery store, think about some of these individuals tasked with keeping our kids safe.
"Coming back this fall is stressful for everybody," Stiegler offered.
To all of Montana's high school coaches and athletic directors working their way through this tangled web, please know you are appreciated.
Doing what you do is hard enough without a pandemic. Doing what you do amid COVID-19 just boggles the mind.