North Dakota now joins several other states in an attempt to continue fall sports while maneuvering through an uncertain COVID-19 landscape.
The North Dakota High School Athletic Association released guidelines and recommendations for opening up fall athletics last week after approving the continuation of fall sports earlier this month.
But North Dakota and, as of Monday Montana, are among few states to not only allow the continuation of fall sports but also release safety guidelines heading into the season.
What’s the same?
The Montana High School Association released its own set of guidelines and recommendations on Monday following the NDHSAA announcement.
There are several similarities between each state’s guidelines, but the most common consensus is that the member schools have the opportunity to add their own guidelines or decide if continuing sports is safe in the first place.
Both organizations also said that any plan, procedure or schedule can be changed to respond to the current status of the pandemic.
Other general similarities include the recommendation to wear face coverings, to social distance and limiting attendance at events.
Additionally, when creating the guidelines and recommendations both organizations consulted with national, state and local experts and acknowledged the risk of COVID-19 transmission as school activities begin in August.
What’s the difference?
Although both states’ guidelines share striking similarities, there are several differences that stand out.
In the MHSA guidelines there is a five-tier system that will help schools navigate through the fall in case something changes at an individual school or at the state level.
For example, all fall sports in Montana will start at Tier 1 meaning that practices and games will be held as usual.
However, if fall sports fall under Tier 5 (the last tier) practices would be called off for a long period of time, only some games would happen and teams would enter round robin play for the regular season and postseason.
The NDHSAA guidelines do not have a tier system, but they do have a checklist of considerations prior to first practice and first contest.
In the lists, coaches are required to keep daily attendance logs for practice, contests and other gatherings for each team (varsity, junior varsity, junior high, etc.).
The daily logs should indicate groups that were in close contact (within six feet of each other for a period of 15 minutes or longer) and if individuals were masked.
The NDHSAA guidelines also mention that schools are encouraged to offer live-streams for events that have restricted attendance, cashless transactions, digital ticketing and recommends that award ceremonies be canceled.
The MHSA, unlike the NDHSAA, did not mention streaming events or using cashless transactions. However MHSA left many things up to the discretion of individual schools and local health departments.
Why continue sports?
The NDHSAA Executive Director Matt Fetsch said it is important for student-athletes to have the option to return to physical activity and competition.
“Everyone’s health and safety is paramount in moving forward with activities and it will not come without disruption, however, providing these opportunities is essential to the physical and mental well-being of high school students,” Fetsch said in a July 16 press release.
The NDHSAA is not alone in this sentiment.
MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckham said in a July 27 memo that resuming sports is crucial to the growth, development and mental and emotional wellness of Montana youth.
Additionally, under the NDHSAA guidelines, it states that student-athletes learn life lessons through school athletics and activities that cannot be duplicated.
Sidney Herald Reporter Dillan Schorfheide contributed to the reporting of this story.