The Flathead City-County Health Department, in a collaborative effort with the local activities directors, released COVID-19 guidelines and procedures for high school and middle school winter sports and activities.
The plan, which was released on Dec. 28, aims to “mitigate and manage the range of risks associated with school sports and activities, while acknowledging that there will likely be cases of COVID-19 associated with these activities,” according to a press release from the Flathead City-County Health Department.
Many of the procedures outlined are similar to those put in place during the fall season.
Fans at basketball and wrestling events will be limited to two spectators per participant in uniform for both the home and visiting teams. Fans in attendance are expressly disallowed from “co-mingling with coaches, players, and/or other fans” before and after events.
No spectators will be allowed to attend swim meets, many of which will be held as virtual meets to limit the number of participants traveling to different facilities.
The sidelines of all contests will be limited to team members and essential personnel only, pep bands will not be allowed to play at winter events and only six cheerleaders are allowed per contest, a more stringent requirement than was in place during fall contests.
“My hope is that once we get started, we can get the numbers up,” Aric Harris, Whitefish High School’s activities director, said in regards to the limits on cheerleaders. “Because the Montana High School Association has no sanctioned competition, they fall more under the spectator rules than the competitor rules.”
Harris said cheerleaders at each school would divide into separate, six-person squads and alternate performing at competitions in order to ensure that no one is cut from a team or left unable to participate. He also said that since stunting is difficult with only six members, it’s possible that spirit squads will be allowed to do a stunting routine prior to the start of the game, and then only six team members will stay for the duration.
“We will really have to think outside the box in terms of giving everyone the opportunities they deserve while keeping everyone safe,” Harris said.
In addition to maintaining strict masking requirements and contact tracing efforts, Flathead County schools are suspending all overnight trips during the regular season and concessions will not be offered at any home games.
Additional protocols are detailed for transportation, locker room use and training rooms and weight facilities.
After pushing the start of winter sports back from the usual December start, MHSA set Jan. 2 as the first day of competition. In Kalispell, Glacier and Flathead high schools will meet in the first of two crosstown wrestling matches on Jan. 2. All other local competitions will begin the following week.
Earlier in December, superintendents from Montana’s Class AA schools petitioned for winter sports to be pushed back to Jan. 18, but MHSA denied the request, stating their plans to reevaluate COVID-19 numbers after Jan. 6.