The Montana High School Association on Monday released its guidelines for fall sports in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — freeing Jefferson High School teams to start practices as planned in August. 

Currently, the state is under Tier 1, which calls for fall sports practices to begin on the scheduled dates, and for schools to adhere to all the state and local directives with regards to fan attendance, enforcing mask requirements, sanitizing and travel, according to the MHSA. The other four tiers, 2-5, employ varying degrees of season starts and interruptions. 

The MHSA advised, however, that music programs be restricted in the schools and the all-state band, choir and orchestra music festival in October has been cancelled. 

The MHSA stated that the extent of the spread of respiratory droplets during singing and the playing of wind instruments is currently under investigation. 

“We recommend restricting these activities in schools until further guidance is available. Individual auditions are allowed,” according to the MHSA.

The extensive set of guidelines allows for football, soccer and volleyball as long as there are no multi-team events, such as an invitational. Golf and cross-country can have multi-team events, but dual meets are encouraged. For all sports, everyone is expected to maintain a six foot distance while on the field or court. The football guidance advises that the customary post-game handshakes be discontinued but does not address tackling during the game. 

The MHSA memo said schools could print “at your own risk” statements on every ticket sold for events. 

Cloth face masks are also encouraged, with exceptions granted for swimming, distance running and other high intensity aerobic activity — however, the latter was not defined. 

Each sport — football, volleyball, soccer, cross-country and cheer — is  provided with a detailed guidance document. There is also a section for officials. 

Wilson, the athletic ball manufacturer, issued a set of guidelines on sterilizing balls without impacting performance, as the MHSA advises that balls be sterilized throughout the game. 

Jefferson High School band and choir teacher Matt Bowman said the fall band, choir and orchestra music festival is not quite so big at the school, but one senior will lose a chance at auditioning for all-state this year. The other competitor, a freshman, still has three years to audition, said Bowman. 

Bowman said he’s prepared for smaller classes and will have the students wear special masks that allow for using the mouthpiece on wind instruments — and those will also have a mask that covers the instrument too. 

For the band, Bowman plans to work with the brass instruments on one day — per the school’s A-B reopening plan schedule — and with woodwinds the next, for example. 

Concerts will likely be virtual events, said Bowman. 

Choir members will wear masks and face shields and stand six feet apart, said Bowman. 

“They will have to learn to sing louder,” he said. 

The real disappointment, if conditions do not improve, will come in the spring, as the band and choir plans to head to Walt Disney World in Florida in April for a competition. Florida is currently experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 cases. 

“Hopefully, we can get past this,” he said, adding that, unlike outdoor sports, music and choir is generally practiced and performed indoors. With Montana’s weather, there isn’t much of a window to do those activities outside, he said. 

Jefferson High School Athletic Director Dan Sturdevant said he plans to release his plans next week. 

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