This week, Riverstone Health and local athletic officials detailed their outline for how Yellowstone County high school and middle school sports will happen with COVID-19 restrictions. The aim of the plan (READ ENTIRETY HERE), is to "mitigate and manage the entire range of risks attendant to athletics and activities, while candidly acknowledging that there likely will be cases of COVID-19 associated with such activities." Riverstone Health admits they are being overly cautious at the beginning of the season, rather than being forced to implement more strict regulations at a later date. They add that these restrictions may be lifted or modified at any time.

Some of the big highlights from the announcement include:

  • Players must wear a mask while not participating in "strenuous exercise." Including while sitting on the sidelines (spaced six feet apart), during discussions such as time-outs, during half time and during any breaks in play or practice.
  • No fans will be allowed at team games or practices. Only coaches and associated support staff, such as medical personnel or managers.
  • Visiting teams must comply with Yellowstone County regulations, with reasonable accommodations to be provided regarding lockers rooms and social distancing.
  • Teams and staff will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before each game.
  • Out of town travel should be "eliminated to the extent possible", but if it does happen, teams members and staff must sit in their assigned seats on the bus and will be roomed with those same team members at a hotel. In-restaurant dining is not allowed and teams are urged to participate in a "boxed lunch" or the grab-n-go model of dining. So much for the post-game dinner at Applebee's.

As news of the press announcement and guidelines were released, there were two general attitudes from parents on social media regarding the release: 1) gratitude that sports and other activities will be allowed to happen, and 2) widespread outrage that fans, parents and supporters will not be able to attend events.

Laurel sports mom Katrina Welch has started a petition on Change.org, as reported by KTVQ. Her petition is urging Riverstone Health and John Felton to reconsider allowing fans to attend games and activities. As of Thursday evening (8/20) the petition has over 17,000 signatures. The petition says, in part,

There have been many large events that were allowed, including the Big Sky State games, the hill climbs in Columbus and Billings, the fair, legion baseball, the 3v3 tournament at the Shrine, little league, graduation ceremonies, etc. and new events being planned like the Big air Bash.  So why put this restriction on our high school sports games and arts performances, where social distancing is possible? 

The petition is not asking for a free-for-all, but parents want to be able to attend games while observing social distancing and wearing masks. If you like to add your signature, the petition is HERE. A possibly more effective route would be flooding Riverstone Health and the governors office with polite letters and emails, urging they consider options to allow spectators. High school sports are a big part of Montana, especially for some of our more rural schools.

OPINION: Parents of athletes have a valid point. There surely must be a way to limit fan attendance to acceptable numbers. Go ahead and close the concession stand. Make us sit six feet apart from non-familial groups. Have a raffle or some other system to see who can get tickets, or give X number of tickets to parents of the athletes. Playing to empty stands will be a disappointment for students, parents and fans of the home team.

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