BILLINGS — The Montana High School Association discussed its winter sports guidelines during a regularly scheduled executive board meeting Monday. The board members did not make any changes, but they tossed around some ideas and said they would continue to evaluate the winter plan as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
MHSA board members met with their advisory team this past Thursday, about a month after Class AA superintendents asked the MHSA to consider postponing the start of the winter season to Jan. 18. The MHSA decided to keep its Jan. 2 start date, which was nearly a month after winter sports competitions were originally scheduled to begin, but the executive board was open to making changes at Monday's meeting after it looked at Montana's COVID-19 numbers and consulted with the advisory team, MHSA executive director Mark Beckman told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com on Dec. 18.
The COVID situation in United States, overall, has worsened since December, with more than 200,000 cases and at least 3,000 deaths daily. The U.S. reported a record 4,254 COVID-caused deaths on Tuesday.
Deaths and hospitalizations have remained high in Montana (10 deaths reported Tuesday), but cases have gone down since November. Changes to the MHSA's winter sports guidelines would be more likely if the state's COVID numbers rose after the holidays. Because they haven't so far, the MHSA did not make any tweaks Monday, but said it will continue to evaluate as the season progresses.
Postseason formats for basketball, swimming and wrestling will be determined at the end of the month, Beckman said.
During Monday's meeting, Beckman mentioned that several states require athletes to wear masks during competitions. The MHSA has no current plans to make a similar decision, but Beckman said it's something to consider.
The MHSA currently mandates face coverings for coaches and athletes during competitions, unless the athletes are in play. Officials are not required to wear masks during competition, either, but spectators are, per the state's mask mandate. Cheerleaders must wear face coverings during sideline cheering and all routines if physical distancing is not possible.
Attendance at winter events is up to host sites and local health department guidelines and restrictions.