MHSA approves return of fall sports, with restrictions
Thursday, July 30, 2020

The DGS Bearcats football team gathers together during a game last season. High school football and volleyball teams are allowed to start practicing Aug. 14. There will be some new restrictions in place to help protect against COVID-19. Photo by Matthew Strissel


The Tri-City Titans volleyball team celebrates a point during action last fall. New this season, volleyball celebrations can no longer involve touching another player. Photo by Matthew Strissel

With the fall sports season quickly approaching, many have been wondering if there will be a season at all. On Monday, July 27, Montana High School Association Executive Director Mark Beckman announced plans for the fall sports season to return.

“Along with the National Federation of High School Associations, the MHSA Executive Board believes the resumption of sports and other activities is crucial to the growth, development, and mental and emotional wellness of our Montana youth,” Beckman said in an email statement.

Several restrictions will be in place for each MHSA-sanctioned sport. These include football, volleyball, cheerleading, golf and cross-country. The restrictions will attempt to minimize the possibility of the spread of COVID-19.

“We believe the safety and well-being of our student-activity participants is paramount,” Beckman said. “These requirements, both general and activity specific, attempt to reduce the possibility of transmission of coronavirus for our student activity participants and for coaches, officials and fans of MHSA activities.”

The MHSA outlined five tiers for schools to move toward in case the spread of coronavirus worsens. Currently, the season will begin in Tier 1 with practices and games starting as scheduled.

Class A golf is set to begin practicing on Thursday, Aug. 13, and competition can begin on Saturday, Aug. 15. Football, volleyball and cross country can start practicing on Friday, Aug. 14, and the first day of competition is Thursday, Aug. 27.

As for people wanting to watch the games, Beckman said the attendance of fans will be determined by the school, in consultation with the local health department authority. Schools may have to submit a plan for fan attendance to their local health department for approval. Masks may also be required, per the governor’s directive for each county.

The MHSA Executive Board gave 12 general requirements and considerations for all fall sports. They also altered certain rules for each sport to be played. For a complete list of all the rule changes, go to www.

Workouts and practices should be conducted in “pods” or “bubbles” with the same players always working out together to limit overall exposure.

For games, there will be no out of state competition, unless approved by Beckman. The MHSA also requests everyone washes and sanitizes their hands as often as possible, and to always maintain social distancing of 6 feet while on the field or court when possible.

Social distancing should also be included during time outs, which will be extended to two minutes for better hydration.

Depending on which county the game is in, per the governor’s directive, facial masks are allowed during play. They must be a single, solid color and unadorned. Gloves are also allowed for players, coaches and officials.

Teams should limit the number of non-essential people on the field during games. The game ball should also be sanitized several times throughout the game.

The last general guideline states that, “A family’s role in maintaining safety guidelines for themselves and others is very important. Make sure your child and immediate household members are free from illness before participating in practice and competition (if there is doubt stay home). Provide personal items for your child and clearly label them.”

Football specific guidelines are also given. They include suspending the shaking of hands before and after games, and there will be only one captain from each team for the coin toss while maintaining social distancing. The team box will be extended on both sides of the field to the 10-yard lines and all players and coaches must maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times while in the team box.

For volleyball, certain protocols are in place for warmups, including neither team being allowed to throw the ball back to their opponents if a ball goes astray. Teams will also remain at their bench during the other team’s warmup time on the court. Pre and post-game handshakes are no longer allowed.

There will no longer be a coin toss for which team will serve and receive. The home team will now serve first in set one, and teams will alternate first serves through the match. Teams will also not switch benches between sets.

Team celebrations can no longer involve touching another player. Cloth face masks are allowed and follow the same rules as football.

In cheerleading, stunting will not be allowed this year. Masks must be worn during sideline cheering and during all cheer routines if social distancing isn’t possible.

Each cheerleader should have their own clearly marked handheld items, including poms, megaphones and signs that are clearly labeled with their name. Megaphones cannot be transferred from one to another or picked up by another person. Poms and signs can be shared, as long as they

For cross-country, dual meets are recommended and encouraged. Meets can have multiple teams, with certain restrictions, that limit the number of racers at each meet.

Social distancing of at least 6 feet should be maintained at all times with no hugging, shaking hands or fist bumps for support/encouragement. Coaches should also keep accurate records of athletes and staff who attend each practice in case contact tracing is needed.

In golf, practice facilities can no longer be used. Tees, pencils and ball-markers and sharpies will not be available. Players must bring their own equipment.

In order to minimize exposure with other schools, the MHSA will require each school to play with golfers of the same gender and from their school in the same group of four or five during regular season competition.

Dual meets are allowed and encouraged. For multi-team events there will be a maximum of 90 players on an 18-hole course and 45 on a 9-hole course.

Flagsticks will be left in the hole at all times. And there will not be an awards presentation at the end of each event.

The 2020 Fall sports season will look very different than years past, but there will still be a season for high school athletes to participate.