Editor's note: This story is been undated to clarify criteria for students wishing to attend a high school that isn't a feeder school and practice during the summer before ninth grade.

HELENA — The Montana High School Association board has approved rule changes that impact incoming freshmen planning to participate in athletics.

Helena High School Activities Director Tim McMahon proposed to the MHSA that all graduated eighth graders in the school system be eligible to practice with their respective feeder high schools.

The MHSA executive board approved the change Monday afternoon. Incoming freshmen now are eligible to practice with their high school feeder team from June 1 to July 31.

That is in contrast to the previous rule that said the incoming ninth graders could only practice on their own and not with returning high school players who were members of their feeder schools. In the past, schools had inadvertently violated the old rule without realizing that ninth graders were ineligible to practice until the start of their freshman year, MHSA executive director Mark Beckman said.

In addition, any athlete who wants to attend a high school that isn't a feeder school may do so if they meet the following criteria:

• Completion of eighth grade

• Parent(s) completion of registration at the selected school.

• Parent(s) pay any applicable tuition charge.

• Parent(s) complete a request to send cumulative school records to the high school.

Prime examples of the significance of the rule change likely will be seen in Montana City and East Helena. Montana City kids attend Jefferson High and East Helena now has its own high school, so any athletes who wish to attend Helena (or Capital) may do so but only if they meet the aforementioned criteria.

A similar scenario could unfold in Billings with the opening of the new high school in Lockwood.

Otherwise, they automatically go to their feeder high school and can practice in the summer period.

Beckman did express mild concern over athletically motivated recruiting with the new rule.

"Hopefully the school makes sure that isn't happening," he said. "On the other side, the parents were to make that choice anyway and send a kid to another school, and the (new rule) allows them to do that earlier, and have a summer workout, and the parents choice may be considered here."

This change and all others made at Monday's meeting are pending two-week notice to member schools for comment. Final action will be taken at the MHSA Executive Board meeting in June, Beckman said.

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