Coronavirus concerns reason for delay in season

Staff Writer | December 16, 2020 12:45 AM

Montana’s high school winter sports season finally began last week after being delayed over half a month by the Montana High School Association board, who voted earlier this fall to postpone the season in an attempt to flatten the curve of climbing coronavirus cases.

Practices for basketball, swimming and wrestling were allowed to begin Dec. 7, nearly two and a half weeks later than originally scheduled and competitions were pushed back even further to Jan. 2, a full month later than is typical, said Columbia Falls activities director Troy Bowman.

The month delay in competitions would have severely shortened the wrestling and swimming seasons, which typically have their state tournaments in February, but new dates were set for the first weekend in March, allowing the sports’ season length to remain comparable to previous years, said Bowman.

The postseason calendar for basketball, however, remained unchanged as did the sport’s standard 18-game limit, and Columbia Falls was able to schedule 16 games for the Wildcats despite the truncated season.

The lengthened preseason provides one upside, said Bowman, in that it makes it easier for athletes to get their requisite 10 practices in before competitions.

The final determination for winter sports spectator attendance will be made after county schools discuss the topic at a Flathead County Health Department meeting happening sometime this month, said Bowman. It’s likely, he said, that the number of permitted fans will remain the same as fall sports — four spectator tickets per home athlete and two per visiting.