BILLINGS — A big question entering the winter is how many girls would wrestle with the Montana High School Association sanctioning girls wrestling this year.

At the three Billings Public Schools high schools, the turnout has been good, according to director of athletics and activities Mark Wahl.

At Senior, 20 girls are participating, and four are out for the sport at Skyview. At West, no girls are out for the sport at this point for the first time in four years, coach Jeremy Hernandez said, but he anticipates more participating in the future based on the number of girls wrestling in the local youth programs, including Team Champs.

Currently, girls wrestlers are practicing with their boys team members at Senior and Skyview. However, with the turnout ratio, School District 2 is now advertising for a head coach to oversee the girls programs, Wahl said.

The idea would be to petition the MHSA to allow girls from the three BPS high schools to practice together. At competitions, the wrestlers would represent their own schools.

According to the MHSA Handbook, “Schools will determine if boys and girls will practice together, have the same coaches etc. By MHSA rules, a head coach will have to be designated for both programs.” The head coach can be the same individual, the handbook notes.

“If we can’t find anyone, we’ll be fine until later but if we can that will be great and we’ll give that person the opportunity to help us build the program the next couple of years,” Wahl said.

Wahl said that as numbers grow at the individual high schools, the school system’s “ultimate goal” would be to have a girls wrestling head coach at all three high schools and to “build individual school programs.”

The sport is being implemented by the MHSA under a two-year pilot program.

“I am just really excited to see how it will go in the next two years and hope we can get it implemented as a full sport and have coaches at each building and really build school programs,” Wahl said. “It will help us promote girls sports and get girls out. I’m excited about it and I think our coaches are excited about it.”

Overall, Wahl said the future is bright for girls wrestling.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the country and I think we have a lot of excitement and the girls that have been wrestling have been really good and it’s gone well,” he said. “I believe the sport will grow quickly. The faster we can get kids out and get those programs built at each school, the better off we’ll be and we like that.”

BPS wrestling schedules released

Wrestling schedules for the BPS high schools were released Friday. The Billings teams all are scheduled to begin this season — delayed by coronavirus — on Jan. 8.

Billings Senior will travel to Great Falls for duals at Great Falls High and Great Falls CMR. West and Skyview will each host Bozeman and Gallatin at the Golden Dome and Falcons gym.

Per MHSA rules designed with social distancing practices in mind due to COVID-19, all regular-season competition will be duals for the larger teams this year.

Class AA teams will compete under a conference format, much like competition in the fall.

“The more you have schools coming in, the more chances you take and so our goal is to get through the season,” Wahl said. “It is limited some, but we have to make sure our student-athletes stay healthy. Obviously there is some risk in the conference, but we have protocols. It gives us a real structure to work off of.”

Postseason format and locations haven’t been decided, though it has been announced that there won’t be an all-class state tournament at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark this season. Instead, four separate state tournaments at four different locations will take place.

The AA, A and B-C boys state tournaments will be March 5-6, 2021, with the boys divisionals set for Feb. 26-27.

All girls who compete in the regular season will qualify for the all-female state wrestling tourney, and there won’t be a divisional. The date and location for the girls state tourney will be announced.

Spectator policy

Wahl said the current fan policy is still in effect, but that it could change if conditions improve or worsen. As of now, the policy is two spectators per participant for wrestling, and boys and girls basketball.

Swimming is limited to 25 people, including coaches, participants and officials, in the pool area at a time.

A swimming schedule wasn’t released Friday and Wahl noted most of the meets will be virtual. According to Wahl, a virtual meet is where those participating “swim on their own in their own pool” with no live competitions. Times are then recorded on a statewide database.

Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at john.letasky@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL

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