Montana High School Association Executive Director Mark Beckman had athletes and fans of spring sports feeling like a lovestruck Lloyd Christmas Thursday.
“So, you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
While the MHSA did not give us a huge glimmer of hope in announcing that the suspension of all spring sports activities has been extended through April 24, the association at least left the door open with the statement.
That’s how Lloyd saw it when Mary Swanson shot him down with that one-in-a-million talk.
Leaving that door open means high school athletes around the state can still work out — on their own — with hope that their season will be held after all. It might not be anything more than a sliver, but it is the first reason for hope we have had since our sports were put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 16.
As Andy Dufresne told his friend, “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
The MHSA announcement came as hope was dropping dead all around us. Spring sports have already been wiped out in Washington, South Dakota, North Dakota and Idaho.
Thursday’s decision by the MHSA Executive Board puts us in line with Gov. Steve Bullock’s stay-at-home order. It also gives us two more weeks of hope.
That is two more weeks of thinking that our team can win it all. Two more weeks of believing a college scout will finally take notice.
It is two more weeks of dreaming.
The decision also gave us a deadline.
May 4 will be the drop-date date for spring sports. If students do not return to in-person instruction by the, the season will officially be canceled.
Maybe this wishful thinking is more along the lines of think of Toby Keith when he sang “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then,” but that is the best we can do in these trying times.
The decision also tells us that the MHSA is going to do all that it can for the student-athletes in the state. It tells us that they are on our side, that they, too, want in the worst way for there to be a spring season.
Beckman, who has been the executive director since replacing the great Jim Haugan 2004, has been with the association since 1997.
The former coach at Butte Central and Anaconda was not employed by the MHSA when the state softball tournaments were rained out in 1996.
Still, Beckman is haunted by that horrible weekend. He swore that he would do whatever possible to make sure that did not happen on his watch.
I talked with Beckman the night before the state tournaments began last month. The coming coronavirus crisis was racing in on us, and Beckman felt it.
We all felt it closing in like a devastating storm.
The NBA had just suspended its season, and the rest of the sporting world was about to follow.
Beckman could not live with a decision that would leave the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from around the state feeling the same emptiness that hurts those softball players 24 years later.
He said the tournaments would be a go until he was told by higher powers that they could not be. In doing so, Beckman opened himself up to some serious second guessing.
Second guessing of the MHSA is one of our best pastimes, too.
The folks at the MHSA get blamed for everything, even when they are usually on point in controlling the things they have power over.
When the lazy administrators of the Class AA refused to give us divisional basketball tournaments for nearly three decades, people wrongly blamed the MHSA.
When transfer rules, also set up by the schools, seem to be unfair and harsh, people point fingers at the MHSA.
When the Class AA blundered the rained out divisional softball tournaments last spring — and ignored obvious solutions to fix the problem in doing so — people again wrongly blamed the MHSA.
As the second semifinal games were played in Billings, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula, news broke of Montana’s first confirmed cases of the coronavirus. There were four of them.
With that, the tournaments were over. The decision was out of Beckman’s hands.
Even if the MHSA wanted to keep playing, they would not be allowed to.
Social media comments over the next few days did not blame the Chinees government’s dishonesty that helped the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Instead, they blamed the MHSA.
Some even accused Beckman of scheming to award Butte Central a state title because he was once the coach and activities director at that school.
Instead, Beckman and his partners at the MHSA should be thanked because the tournaments were not a total loss. Co-champions were crowned, and they will all be celebrated as soon as it is safe to celebrate them.
So many other teams had the opportunity to play on the state’s biggest stage because of that brave decision, too. They had the chance to qualify for the championship game.
That was never the case in 1996. Butte High’s Western AA softball team thought it was declared co-champs when the Bulldogs headed home for rainy Billings, where a single game was not played.
Officially, though, the titles were not handed out. Banners for the championship do not hang.
Yes, Beckman faced the possibility of being blamed for coronavirus cases related to the decision to pack the four best arenas in the state.
While reading through the tweets and Facebook comments about Beckman’s wrong decision to cancel the tournaments, you could find those counting the hypothetical blood on the executive director’s hands.
It was a classic catch-22.
Thankfully, state health officials said this week that no cases were traced to any tournament.
Can you image how bad it would have been had Beckman not put his neck on the line and no state tournament games were played?
As Donnie Brasco says, “Forget about it.”
This week shows us that Beckman and the MHSA are once again looking out for the student-athletes, and they deserve praise. They understand that calling off the season is a decision that cannot be taken lightly.
They know that hopes and dreams would be crushed by such a move. They know it could cost student-athletes scholarships. They know it could end careers.
The MHSA knows that the ramifications of such a decision will still be felt 24 years from now.
No matter what happens, after Thursday, those students will at least know that the MHSA went to bat for them.
That is true even if the announcement tells them that they have only a slightly better chance of playing this season than Lloyd had of landing Mary.
I’d say more like two out of a million.
— Bill Foley, who likes those odds, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. He plans to write more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 1 comment