Fall sports plan released for Montana schools
Ryan Peerboom — Enterprise Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Article Image Alt Text

Enterprise photo by Ryan Peerboom

Members of the Park High football team react to a jump ball on a deep pass during their week-long summer camp July 21 at McLeod Field. 

Article Image Alt Text

Montana might be one of the few states in the country with high school sports this fall as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Montana High School Association (MHSA) announced its plan to move ahead with fall sports as scheduled on Monday.

“During a recent MHSA Executive Board meeting, the Board approved various directives, requirements and considerations regarding the return to MHSA Fall Activities,” MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman said in a news release. “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.”

Park High School Activities Director Nate Parseghian said the state’s start plan was expected. 

“We’ve had communication with MHSA through the summer and the expectation was that they were going to try to find a way to do it,” Parseghian said. “So I’m not surprised by it.” 

According to the release, the MHSA’s current plan is to start on time. However, the MHSA outlined a tiered approach that contains five potential scenarios for fall sports.

Tier one allows sports to start on time without interruption during the season. In this tier, teams will play all games as scheduled as long as they are compatible with other guidelines. 

Tier two accounts for a delayed start or interruption of play during the season. In this scenario, non-conference games would be canceled and teams would be relegated to playing schools in their own conference. 

Tier three plans for a delayed start or interruption of play for a significant period of time. As a result, conference schedules would be shortened in addition to the cancellation of all non-conference games. 

Tier four outlines a plan for a mid-season interruption with the season starting on time. In this case, the number of conference games would be shortened and post season dates, locations and formats could also be adjusted. 

The fifth and final tier accounts for an extended interruption. This tier plans to salvage the season by playing a small number of games. The tier would also impact postseason play by potentially making the regular season games round-robin style to determine playoff seeding. 

Dates, locations and playoff formats are also subject to change.

Although tier one is currently in effect, Parseghian said they are studying all tiers in order to be ready for a sudden change. 

“We need to be prepared and planned to be very flexible and have a great understanding that things can change pretty quickly as they essentially have all summer,” he said. 

Fan attendance will be decided on a local level based on community guidelines. 

“The attendance of fans at regular season contests will be determined by the school in consultation with their local health department authority,” the release said. “Schools may have to submit a plan for fan attendance to their local health department for approval.”

Parseghian said they are working with the Park County Health Department to make decisions based on fan attendance. 

“Allowing fans at the events is going to be dependent upon what’s going on locally with the health department and the school district,” he said. 

Additionally, the MHSA said there will be no multi-team or invitational tournaments for football, volleyball and soccer. 

Parseghian said they expected this rule and will have to tweak their schedule to accommodate for it.

“I think the biggest thing that it’s going to create right now is some of the protocols will require us to redo our schedule,” he said. 

Dual meets are encouraged for both golf and cross country as long as they keep the number of participants under specified amounts. For golf, there should be a maximum of 90 golfers per 18-hole course. In cross country, there should be no more than 200 competitors at any event and staggered or interval start times are recommended. 

The MHSA also outlined 12 general guidelines that apply to all sports in the release. These requirements include but are not limited to:

• Workouts/practices should be conducted in “pods” / “bubbles” of participants with same players working out together to limit overall exposure.

• No out-of-state competition or teams traveling from out of state for competition, unless it is in a dual format and approved by the MHSA executive director.

• Everyone must have their own beverage container that is not shared. Safe handling practices should be adhered during hydration, which includes refilling, retrieval and identification of water source.

• Cloth facial coverings are allowed for players, coaches and officials. Facial coverings must be a single solid color and unadorned.  Face coverings must be worn per the governor’s directive.

• The ball should be cleaned and sanitized throughout the contest / event as recommended by the ball manufacturer.


Parseghian mentioned that Park has provided opportunities for athletes to continue to work on their sports throughout the summer because he believes in the importance of school-related activities. Although they followed the state’s guidelines for summer workouts, it helped him realize that some routines are hard to break.

“There’s these traditions that are sort of engrained into sports that are habits and they’re things we’re going to need to learn how to break and also replace,” he said. “Hopefully just temporarily, like MHSA is saying, hopefully just suspending those things, because sportsmanship is a huge component of what we’re teaching. 

The release also outlined guidelines and rules that are specific to each sport. 



In accordance with the rule barring multi-team events, there will be no jamborees allowed for football teams this fall. 

The coin toss at the beginning of games or overtime periods will be limited to two officials and one captain representing each team.

The team box, which usually limits teams to stay inside each 25-yard line, will be extended to the 10-yard lines. All those inside the box must “maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times.”

Players can only use plastic shields covering their entire face if they are completely clear and are integrated into the facemask and connected to the helmet. 

Parseghian said he has spoken with their equipment supplier and they are looking into using full face shields this season. 



Players must maintain distance whenever possible. The team and coaching area will be extended by 10 yards to allow more room for distancing. 

Pregame conferences have also been limited to officials, one coach and one player from each team. Introductions will be done as players are sent to their positions in lieu of the standard world cup-style intro lines. 


Cross Country

Teams must remain distanced and wear masks in their own designated staging area prior to competition. 

Only 25 runners will be allowed at the starting line to encourage staggered, waved or interval starting times.

The release also recommends the widening of courses to at least 6 feet at the narrowest point.

Image-based equipment and other methods that allow for distancing should be used at the finish line. 



In warm ups, players should use one ball and shag it themselves. If the ball crosses sides, the opposing team is not allowed to throw it back. The home team must also provide a separate basket of balls for each team. 

A ball must be replaced and sanitized if it is hit into the crowd. 

Teams will not switch benches or sides of the floor during matches and bench personnel must be limited to ensure distancing. 



Cheerleading squads will not be allowed to do stunts this season. Additionally, they will be required to wear masks when social distancing of 6 feet or more is not possible. 

Teams can still do normal cheerleading or dance routines as long as cheerleaders can remain distanced and any equipment used can be cleaned in between uses. No equipment can be shared and no items may be thrown into the crowd. 



Golfers may not use the practice facilities at courses, including driving ranges and practice putting greens. 

Players must bring their own equipment, including tees, pencils/pens and ball markers. 

Groups should be limited to four or five competitors from the same school to minimize exposure to golfers from other communities. 

Shotgun starts are required for any multi-team event. 

All rakes will be removed from courses and players are encouraged to smooth any disturbed area with their foot or club after hitting from a bunker. 

Flagsticks must remain in the hole at all times.  


 Parseghian said that they will focus on adhering to the MHSA’s guidelines before competition starts. 

“Those are things we’re going to be working very hard on for the next month,” he said. “We’re one month away from the first day of competition in most of the sports.”