KALISPELL — An anonymous threat that’s forced Flathead County schools to close their doors and cancel this weekend’s extracurricular activities is sending ripples across the state.
A homecoming celebration, sports events — both home and away — and a middle school football jamboree were among those canceled. In his 40 years in education, said Flathead County Superintendent of Schools Jack Eggensperger, he’s not seen anything quite like this.
“Football games are especially tough to make up,” he said. “They can play a game on a Monday night, but even that’s really hard.”
Corvallis’ football team had prepared all week to travel to Whitefish to play in that district’s homecoming matchup, but that game was canceled Friday morning.
“It’s always tough anytime you have to cancel a football game,” said Corvallis High School’s assistant principal and athletic director Tyson Tucker. “I can’t imagine how tough it is to do when it’s your homecoming weekend. ... At the same time, keeping kids safe is always the most important thing.”
The cancellations could create challenges when it comes time to determine which schools will advance to the playoffs later this fall, he said.
Friday was the second day schools in Flathead County were closed, following an anonymous threat sent to several schools.
"Based upon our estimation, without revealing any details of the investigation, we certainly feel that there is a credible threat, or at least a potentially credible threat," Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said.
Officials have not released the contents of the threats, which were apparently sent by text and email, beginning Wednesday, the day a student at a high school southeast of Spokane shot and killed one student and injured three others. Some threats were received Thursday morning.
Columbia Falls and Kalispell police, the Flathead County sheriff's office and the FBI are investigating. "Persons of interest" were interviewed and the investigation made progress on Thursday, Curry said.
"We pretty much have every resource on this right now," Curry said.
Friday evening, the Kalispell Police Department released a statement saying that it "continues to work with a multi-agency task force to identify and understand the threat we are faced with."
"We realize this incident has created a lot of frustration and many of you have questions you want answered. This is an ongoing investigation and therefore we cannot discuss further details at this time," the statement read, adding that the department was working to resolve things as soon as possible.
School administrators decided Friday morning to cancel all extracurricular activities, including games that were to be held in communities outside the Flathead Valley.
Eggensperger, the county superintendent, said school administrators didn’t want to have any large number of students gathering for any reason at the schools until the threat has passed.
“The administrators did not want to have anything going on at the schools,” Eggensperger said. “That included large groups of kids getting on a bus.”
Montana High School Association executive director Mark Beckman said the association will consider the games affected by the cancellations this weekend as postponements, not forfeitures.
“Any postponement, rescheduling or cancellation of contest must be arranged by the schools involved within the established dates for the season,” Beckman said in a memo to school districts. “There is no rule that would prohibit two football games in a week.”
Besides football, Eggensperger said Flathead School athletes are missing a golf tournament in Frenchtown, numerous volleyball matches and a cross-country meet.
Jesse Rumsey, Kalispell Flathead girls' cross country coach for the past 11 years, said its been a tough year due the smoke and now this threat.
"We’ve just been dealt some challenging cards the last couple of weeks with the smoke and everything that's going on now in Kalispell,” Rumsey said. “We’re going to have two weeks with no competition, so we’re working hard to keep the morale up. We just keep plugging away and looking ahead."
In Pablo, hundreds of middle school football hopefuls from around the region will lose the opportunity to participate in the annual jamboree after about seven Flathead County teams were forced to pull out Saturday’s tournament forcing its closure.
“This is impacting a lot of different events and communities across the state,” Eggensperger said.
Missoula Sentinel's football team was scheduled to travel to Kalispell Flathead Friday. "I just know we have a game canceled for valid reasons, and we seem to be thriving in chaos," Sentinel athletic director and head football coach Dane Oliver said Friday. "... I think it’s a serious situation obviously.
"I have young kids and kindergartners are being affected by this. Young kids, kids in daycare. It’s not just athletics that’s being affected, it’s a community that’s being shut down," he said.
Taylor Morton, Kalispell Flathead's senior quarterback, said it was "a huge bummer to miss this game. I know myself along with my team were really looking forward to getting in front of our home crowd for the first game on the new turf tonight in what would've been a dogfight against Sentinel."
Eggensperger said school administrators will meet Sunday to decide if the schools will reopen Monday, he said.
The widespread closure affected more than 30 public and private schools and roughly 15,700 students, including those in high schools in Bigfork, Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish, along with Flathead Valley Community College Campuses in Kalispell and Libby.
The Associated Press and Missoulian reporters Kyle Houghtaling and Bill Speltz contributed to this story. For a story about how the cancellations affect area teams, please go to the Missoulian's sports pages.