By Bill Foley
While the coronavirus outbreak made a major impact on the NBA, NCAA and NAIA Wednesday, Montana is still preparing to run its high school state basketball tournaments as planned.
Mark Beckman, the executive director of the Montana State High School Association, said late Wednesday that the situation is still fluid, but the plan is to crown eight state champions on Saturday night.
“Everything is still on,” Beckman said. “There has been no recommendation from either state health or local health saying otherwise.”
The Class B boys’ tournament began Wednesday at the Adams Center in Missoula. The girls’ tournament will join the action on Thursday.
The Class AA, A and B tournaments all begin on Thursday.
Bozeman’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse will host the Class AA boys’ and girls’ tournaments, and the Class A tournaments will be played at The Metra in Billings. Beckman is in Butte for the Class B boys’ and girls’ tournaments.
Beckman said all four arenas are taking extra precaution to keep the fans and players safe. For instance, the Butte Civic Center hired extra employees to make sure all surfaces are routinely cleaned.
“We’re recommending that coaches and players do fist bumps and elbow bumps at pregame and postgame,” Beckman said.
He also said officials are asking fans who are feeling ill or showing any signs of the coronavirus to stay home.
“They can sure get it on the NFHS Network,” Beckman said, referring to a streaming service where fans can pay to watch the games online.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that its men’s and women’s tournaments would be played without fans. The NAIA will do the same for its tournaments, including the women’s tournament next week in Billings.
Also, the NBA has announced it has suspended the season “until further notice” amid reports that Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert has tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We’re different than the NAIA and NBA because we don’t’ have any cases in Montana, and we are localized,” Beckman said. “We don’t have any teams coming in from outside of Montana. These are Montana’s championships.”
Beckman said he will be contact with state and local health officials throughout the tournaments. While no contingency plans have been discussed, Beckman pointed out that Montana has had a game played without fans in the past.
Butte High and Bozeman played a fan-free game in the late 1980s in Bozeman because of a measles outbreak.
“We haven’t got that far yet,” Beckman said.
Beckman said he wants to avoid a situation like the 1996 state softball tournaments that were canceled because of rain.
“That was so hard on kids not being able to compete to the end,” he said.