Game on — that is what the Montana High School Association said Monday morning as it issued a set of guidelines for each high school sport and for officials.
During a recent MHSA Executive Board meeting, the board approved various directives, requirements and considerations regarding the return to MHSA fall activities. Along with the National Federation of High School Associations, the MHSA Executive Board believes the resumption of sports and other activities is crucial to the growth, development, and mental and emotional wellness of Montana high school students.
According to a press release from Mark Beckman, MHSA executive director, the process to come up with these directives, requirements and considerations included consultation with national, state and local experts from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, the governor’s directives, state and local health departments and input from state activity associations across the country.
“Once again, we believe that the safety and well-being of our student activity participants is paramount,” Beckman said. “These requirements, both general and activity-specific, attempt to reduce the possibility of transmission of coronavirus for our student activity participants and for coaches, officials and fans of MHSA activities.”
High school volleyball and football practices will begin on Friday, Aug. 14.
The MHSA has created five tiers for its return to sports, with Tier 1 planning to start as scheduled. As the tiers progress, more and more changes would be made to the activities, including the cancellation of non-conference games, shortening conference seasons and, eventually, playing some games, potentially round robin play, in Tier 5.
There will be no multi-team events such as triangular and invitational tournaments, either pre-season or during the season in the sports of football, soccer and volleyball. This will include the traditional Choteau High School preseason volleyball tournament, which had been set for Aug. 28-29. The guidelines say the status of allowing multiple team events in relation to the current phase and restrictions in place later in the season will be reevaluated accordingly.
Multi-team events are welcomed in cross country, in which Fairfield has fielded a team in the past few years. With cross country, no more than 200 participants are allowed, and teams must remain in their own staging area. Only 25 runners will be allowed on the start line, and once the race is completed, athletes must return to the team bus.
The lone cancellation at this time is the all-state band, choir and orchestra music festival, which was scheduled for Oct. 14-16. It will not be rescheduled during the 2020-21 school year.
Admission of fans to activities will be determined by each individual school in accordance with their county health departments. School districts may have to submit plans to the local health department for hosting events.
Some schools may experience quarantines before or during a season. Those scheduled contests will be considered “no contest.” If a school refuses to go to a location where contests are allowed it will be considered a forfeit. Districts/divisions/classifications will be responsible for determining post season seeding criteria taking into consideration these situations.
The MHSA information also states depending on teams available, post-season formats may be adjusted according to those teams being able to participate. Alternate formats — playoffs instead of central sites, single loss events, reduced qualifiers or end-of-season round robin play with remaining teams.
Among the general requirements are:
•Workouts/practices should be conducted in pods/bubbles of participants with the same players working out together to limit overall exposure.
•Before, during and after the contest, players, coaches and administrators should wash and sanitize their hands as often as possible.
•No out-of-state competition or teams traveling from out-of-state for competition, unless it is in a dual format and approved by the MHSA Executive Director.
•Always maintain social distancing of six feet while on the field/court of play when possible.
•Everyone must have his or her own beverage container that is not shared. Safe handling practices should be adhered to during hydration, which includes refilling, retrieval and identification of water source.
•Time-outs (if applicable) may be extended to a maximum of two minutes in length for safe hydration practices. Social distancing requirements must always be followed.
•Gloves are permissible for all players, coaches and officials.
•The ball should be cleaned and sanitized throughout the contest/event as recommended by the ball manufacturer.
•Administrators must limit the number of non-essential personnel who are on the field/player surface area throughout the contest.
•Attendance at MHSA events is dependent on host site and local health department guidelines and restrictions.
•A family’s role in maintaining safety guidelines for themselves and others is very important. Parents should make sure their child and immediate household members are free from illness before participating in practice and competition (if there is doubt, stay home). Parents should provide personal items for their child and clearly label them.
The MHSA also released sport-specific guidelines and considerations, with each list meant to “decrease potential exposure to respiratory droplets by encouraging social distancing, limiting participation in administrative tasks to essential personnel and allowing for appropriate protective equipment.”
For all sports, pregame protocol of shaking hands during introductions is suspended. The coin toss attendees is limited to the referee, umpire and one designated representative from each team. Coin toss should take place in the center of the field or court with designated individuals maintaining social distancing of six feet. No handshakes will be allowed before and following the coin toss.
Cloth face coverings are permissible for teams. They must be a single, solid color and unadorned. Face coverings must be worn per the governor’s directive. Plastic shields covering the entire face (unless integrated into the face mask and attached to the helmet and clear without the presence of any tint) shall not be allowed during the contest.
For cross country, all runners must wear masks in the team staging area, corral and until the start. Runners may remove their mask when called to the starting line by the starter.
•The team box will be extended on both sides of the field to the 10-yard lines (for players only) in order for more social-distancing space for the teams.
•The ball must be cleaned and sanitized throughout the contest. The ball holders should maintain social distancing of six feet at all times during the contest.
•Gloves are permissible but still must comply with the rules.
•A single charged time-out may be extended to a maximum of two minutes in length.
•The authorized conference for the charged time-out should take place between the nine-yard marks and not at the sideline for social distancing purposes. (It would be permissible for more than one coach to be involved in this conference and for technology to be used.)
•The intermission may be extended to a maximum of two minutes between the first and second and the third and fourth periods and following a try, successful field goal or safety and prior to the succeeding free kick.
•Each player must shag their own individual ball. If a ball inadvertently goes to the other team’s side, none of the opposing players may throw the ball back. Only team members playing in the current match can shag balls. The home team must provide separate baskets of balls for warm-ups. (one basket will be used by the visiting team and one basket will be used by the home team) Teams must remain at their bench area during the opposing team’s warm up time on the court.
•The use of the coin toss to determine serve/receive will be suspended. The home team will serve first in set one and the teams will alternate first serves for all remaining sets.
•Teams will not switch benches between sets. Bench personnel must be limited to observe social distancing of three to six feet. The number of bench personnel must be determined by the size of the bench area. Team bench areas must maintain proper social distancing.
•Essential personnel will be limited to the home team scorer, libero tracker and timer. A distance of three to six feet must be maintained between individuals. The visiting team personnel (scorer, statisticians, etc.) are not deemed essential personnel and will need to find an alternative location.
•Team introductions: each team will stand on the end line while maintaining social distancing and step forward and raise a hand when introduced. Team celebrations must not involve touching.