HELENA — The Montana High School Association released its plans Friday for the 2021 spring sports season.
Last year’s spring sports season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
All spring sports practices for track and field, softball, tennis and golf began on the scheduled dates, the MHSA noted in the release. The release also notes that “after tracking and evaluating the current COVID information, the spring season will provide more opportunities than were approved for fall and winter activities.”
On Thursday, 149 new cases of COVID-19 in Montana were reported, for a total of 993 cases in the state. Also as of Thursday, 382,849 doses of vaccine have been given in the Treasure State, and 148,268 Montanans were fully immunized.
The MHSA released the guidelines in an “attempt to reduce the possibility of transmission of coronavirus for our student-activity participants and for coaches, officials and fans."
The release from the MHSA did say that postseason formats would be “determined after review and evaluation of current regular-season formats and requirements and considerations.”
"The plan is we are proceeding as scheduled," MHSA executive director Mark Beckman said. "But, if something comes up with a surge or something like that, then we could look at adjustments at that time. But, we will give it some time to see how that goes."
The spring sports guidelines have been established based on “consultation with national, state and local experts from the CDC, NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, state and local health departments and input from state activity associations from across the country.”
The release also states that student-athletes and their families have a role to play and if they don’t feel good, and/or are experiencing illness, they should stay home.
In terms of fan attendance at regular-season events, that will be “determined by the school in consultation with their local health department authority.” The release notes schools may need to submit a spectator plan to their local health department to approve.
As for masks, facial coverings “must be worn according to local health department directives, facility requirements, and/or school requirements. If there aren’t requirements, the MHSA encourages the wearing of face coverings by coaches, players and fans.” Athletes don't have to wear a mask when participating in their event.
For track and field, dual and triangular competitions are recommended, although multi-team invitational contests may be held if approved by the local county health departments and guidelines are followed. These protocols include masking when required by local jurisdictions and social distancing.
Top 10 and Top 8 track meets will be allowed if approved locally “because the number of participants is set at 10 or 8 participants per event.”
For multi-team track events, guidelines set by the MHSA include five entries per team per event for 4-10 teams participating, four entries per team per event for 11-20 teams participating and three entries per team per event for 20-25 teams participating. The maximum number of teams that can participate per meet is 25.
For a dual or triangular, there isn’t a limit on entries, the release notes.
For softball, games between a pair of teams — including doubleheaders — are encouraged. Multi-team events can be held if the complex has more than one field and entry and exit to and from the fields is monitored.
At softball games, there needs to be designated areas for home and visiting fans and there shouldn’t be a common gathering area for teams and fans.
In tennis, once again the MHSA recommends and encourages dual meets. Like softball, if a facility has multiple courts and there is an ability to physically separate teams while they wait to play, and entry and exit plans, multi-team events can be held. Common gathering areas for teams and fans aren’t allowed.
A golf meet with multiple teams may be held, but the total number of golfers is capped at 90. Dual meets are encouraged.
Shotgun starts can be employed, but the point of entry to the course needs to be “different to access their starting holes.” If a shotgun start isn’t used, “there can’t be any gathering by teams waiting for their tee time.”
After a golf meet, golfers must find the team bus immediately and scores will be shared with each squad.
The MHSA also listed several other guidelines, including:
• Practices should be conducted in “pods” with the same players working out to limit exposure to the virus.
• Players, coaches and officials should wash or sanitize their hands often.
• Teams from outside Montana are not allowed and teams should not leave the Treasure State to compete, unless approved by the MHSA.
• Individuals should maintain social distancing on the field/court when possible.
• All individuals need to use their own beverage container.
• Non-essential personnel at events should be limited.