Jefferson High School opened its gyms to student-athletes on Monday, June 15, and it introduced a detailed plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those participating in summer sports activities. 

The plan was approved by the Jefferson County Health Department and the Jefferson High School Board, said Superintendent Tim Norbeck.

The Montana High School Association left the decision to reopen school facilities for sports activities to the individual districts, and as a result, JHS opted to allow limited access. 

This is the first time the school building has been openly available to students since Gov. Steve Bullock closed all public schools in March due to COVID-19. 

Statewide, official high school fall sports practices begin Aug. 14, followed by competitions starting Aug. 27, according to the MHSA.

Despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19, “no one seems stressed, and (everyone) is eager to help each other,” said Danielle Bullock, JHS assistant volleyball coach. 

Norbeck said JHS will follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, which include smaller gatherings, proper disinfecting of all equipment, and maintaining certain crowd numbers. In addition to these standard procedures, the guidelines call for no water sharing or fountain use, small groups, and no scrimmaging or direct contact in the practice setting. Only one entrance/exit to the school will be made available, said Norbeck.

Danielle Bullock shared what open gym for volleyball will look like this summer if approved. On the volleyball court, there will be no more than 50 people in the gym at one time, including coaches. 

Before entering the gym, each athlete will wash and sanitize their hands, and have their temperature checked, the coach said. Anyone with a temperature, cough, other symptoms common to COVID-19, or who looks sick, will be asked to return home, she added.

 In addition, each athlete will have their own ball and it is to be sanitized regularly throughout and after practice, she said. 

In order to maintain social distancing, drills will be in the form of stations six feet apart. Whenever in a team huddle, the coaches and athletes are asked to wear a mask and gloves, said Bullock.  

Meanwhile, the MHSA has drafted five tiers to guide decision-making for the upcoming sports season — all geared to accommodate changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The tiers are as follows:

•Tier 1 — Practices, games and the postseason go on as scheduled.

•Tier 2 — If there is a COVID-19 outbreak, practices, and games will be delayed for the start of the season. Non-conference games will be canceled, but the postseason will continue as scheduled

•Tier 3- If there is a longer delay due to an outbreak of COVID-19, practices, and games will be delayed for the start of the season. Non-conference games will be canceled, the conference season will be shortened, but the postseason will still be played.

•Tier 4- If the season starts and is interrupted by an outbreak, conference games will be adjusted, and there will be a seeding determination for lost games. The postseason will be played as usual. 

•Tier 5- If there is a longer delay, jamboree tournaments will be considered, the seeding and postseason will be adjusted as well as competition sights and dates

Another concern about the upcoming sports season is how the school will maintain a limited number of fans at each event. Norbeck said the plan is similar to the recent Class of 2020 graduation in which “those who support them most are there to be a part of it.” Norbeck is also hopeful that Montana will begin Phase 3 and some of the guidelines will be relaxed. 

Despite the uncertainty, Norbeck said, “I think it’s a moving target, there’s going to be lots of meetings and dialogue this summer.” 

Each sport has a different atmosphere and uses different equipment. 

With the CDC guidelines to uphold, practice and competitions will not be the same as in the past. Karson Klass, head cross country coach said that he coaches a “distance sport” and can ensure that running and workouts will be spaced out by six feet, as required for social distancing. 

“I really hope it’s not canceled … with any challenge there is always an opportunity, it can be a really fun season with mixed races. I look at it as an opportunity. Cross country doesn’t have to change which is awesome,” said Klass of the upcoming season. 

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