Smoky Conditions Forcing Teams Indoors, Threatening Games

Glacier, Bigfork waiting to determine whether football games will be played Friday evening

By Dillon Tabish
Smokey skies fill the valley during the PRCA Rodeo at the Northwest Montana Fair on Aug. 20, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Smoky conditions plaguing Western Montana are hampering practices for area sports teams and could possibly impact games in the coming days and weeks.

High school practices for football, soccer and cross country have been moved indoors for local teams in the past week due to unhealthy air quality. In the midst of a severe wildfire season, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued air quality alerts to several counties across the state, including Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, Glacier and Sanders.

“Coaches are frustrated but they understand,” Bigfork activities director Dave Creamer said Wednesday. “They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances.”

Concerns are particularly centered on football games. Bigfork and Glacier are scheduled to host their season openers Friday night at 7 p.m. Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Flathead are on the road.

The possibility of worsening air quality could lead to the cancellation of games, which is especially problematic for football. Bigfork plays eight games with one bye week before the playoffs begin, although none of the team’s opponents are free that week, Creamer said. Glacier plays 10 games with weekly matches between now and Oct. 30.

Rescheduling football games can be difficult logistically and because of the recommended time between games for players to rest.

“Playing with only a few days rest between games is not much safer than playing in thick smoke,” Creamer said. “Nobody wants to do that.”

Creamer and other activities directors are following the air conditions through local health officials and the state DEQ, which has monitoring stations in Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls.

As of Wednesday morning, air quality was listed as unhealthy in the Flathead Valley, a slight improvement from recent days when it was considered very unhealthy. Health officials recommended people with respiratory or heart diseases, the elderly and children should limit outdoor exertion under “unhealthy” conditions.

Both Bigfork and Glacier will determine whether to play by late Friday afternoon. Glacier hosts Helena. Bigfork hosts Florence.

“If we have to delay the start, we will do that. We think we can get it in,” Glacier AD Mark Dennehy said.

The Montana High School Association does not have a formal policy dictating competition in unhealthy air conditions. It does allow two football games to be played in one week.

Glacier and Whitefish both host games next week, as well.

“We just have to wait until the last minute to make a decision whether we play or not,” Creamer said. “Unfortunately, I feel like this is something that will not end in the next couple weeks.”

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