Mark Beckman

Mark Beckman, executive director of the MHSA, poses for a picture after meeting with the Independent Record's Editorial Board Monday in Helena. 

HELENA — The Montana High School Association has a lot on its plate.

The non-profit organization oversees 181 member schools in four classifications. But it’s also about more than just sports.

The MHSA does sponsor nine athletic activities for both male and female athletes, but it also manages events such as band, chorus, orchestra, forensics and drama, creating opportunities for 31,000 athletes and 15,000 in fine arts.

Mark Beckman has been the MHSA's executive director for 16 years and is serving a term as president of the National Federation of High Schools, making him only the second person from Montana to serve in that role.

On Monday, Beckman sat down with the editorial board of the Helena Independent Record and 406mtsports.com to tackle a number of topics. Here are the highlights.

Officiating:

“We have about 1,600 officials and of course, our problem with officials is trying to recruit and retain them. There is a shortage of officials, there is no doubt about that. We have been pretty good about bringing in new (officials). Our problem is with keeping them. So we are working on some strategies for that. We are looking at some of the problems with that and throughout the country, not just in Montana, some of our adult fans are getting a little bit out of whack. The majority of our fans are fantastic. But we have some adult fans that are just vicious and we aren’t going to put up with that.”

Concussions and player safety:

“We are one of the first states along with Michigan to offer concussion insurance to every athlete and cheerleader that participates. What we like about that is we see more kids going to the doctor to make sure they are OK. The return to play can be scary too and under the care of a doctor is so much better.”

“Through the federation (NFHS) and through our associations, they are able to say that football is the safest it has ever been. It doesn’t mean there aren’t risks. There will always be risks playing sports and we have to keep looking at those things. One of the things we are looking at is the header in soccer.”

Forfeitures in football:

“There are two things there. Declining enrollment ties into it, but also kids just aren’t playing football. For whatever reason. There is speculation that it could be safety reasons and that could be true but also being around Fortnite and video games and all of this stuff is part of it too. So I encourage schools to look at co-oping, which is something they might have never thought before. We adjusted alignments a few years ago and that has worked out really well. We have three criteria, maybe the fourth is we look at their success rate for 10 years and if it hasn’t been good, maybe they can play down and see what that looks like so at least the kids have an opportunity to play.”

Class AA playoffs:

“We allow the schools to set up their playoff structure. I didn’t realize (Class AA) would go to a full board playoff like that but I am interested to see how they evaluate that. Each class goes in and looks at their playoff structure. Then they send it to us and the only way we wouldn’t approve it is if there was something unequitable about it.”

Transfers/eligibility:

“The major eligibility rules are first academic eligibility because that’s what is most important. The transfer rule is to protect competition between schools. Our transfer rule is 90 days. Some states have 180 days but we have not gone that far. But it can be complicated when you have new schools opening and they are trying to protect attendance and the rules are there to protect the kids in the school.”

“We do have a hardship waiver and we get about 60-70 (requests to grant a hardship) a year. About 70 percent of them are approved. It has to be an extenuating circumstance beyond the control of the student or the student’s parents and not athletically motivated. You always want to do what’s right for the student but you also have to think about the other kids that could be impacted. We try to be fair and consistent to the athletes.”

Transgender athletes:

“We put together a proposal a couple of years ago and we took it from the South Dakota policy which I thought was really good. The student, whichever they identified as male or female, would go through a committee and the committee would talk to experts and on through and then a decision would be made. There was a big outcry at that time so our board actually pulled it. That’s where we are right now. Will there be a transgender policy? I am not sure.”

New sports: 

“There was actually a proposal put in during the last annual meeting for girls wrestling. It passed overwhelmingly, so a committee was formed. We haven’t shared the results with our board yet but they have put together a plan to put together for the membership to add girls wrestling starting next year. So we are excited if that comes to be, the problem is that you have to offer an equal number of boys and girls sports. So one thing that has been looked at is powerlifting and then there is bass fishing and stuff like that.”

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Chris is the sports editor and lead preps reporter for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmpetey406

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