State tournament terminated, Spring sports suspended

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Story And Photos By Jackson Mcmurrey
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Colter Bales and Jace McNeil, of Laurel, defend against players from Billings Central in game six of the class A state tournament on Friday, March 13 at the First Interstate Auto Arena.

Colter Bales and Jace McNeil, of Laurel, defend against players from Billings Central in game six of the class A state tournament on Friday, March 13 at the First Interstate Auto Arena.

Eli Aby and Wylee Schnetter chat with a referee before starting a new quarter in game six against Billings Central of the Class A State tournament on Friday, March 13 at the First Interstate Auto Arena.

Eli Aby and Wylee Schnetter chat with a referee before starting a new quarter in game six against Billings Central of the Class A State tournament on Friday, March 13 at the First Interstate Auto Arena.

Starters for the Locomotives take the court a the beginning of game four of the Class A State tournament against Browning on Thursday, March 12 at the First Interstate Auto Arena.

Starters for the Locomotives take the court a the beginning of game four of the Class A State tournament against Browning on Thursday, March 12 at the First Interstate Auto Arena.

After a spike in federal and state interest to slow the spread of the new disease, COVID-19, the Montana High School Association claims to have had no choice but to end all state basketball tournaments one day shy of championship games. The decision was made final on Friday, March 13 after the evening semi-final games were played, but other businesses and organizations around the state throughout that day were closing their doors to the public by the minute. The announcement was made public by the executive director of the MHSA in response to receiving word from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services that there were, at the time, four confirmed cases of COVID-19. Friday’s semi-final winners, Butte Central and Hardin, were declared co-state champions, with no championship or consolation matches to take place Saturday as scheduled.

The Locomotives played their last game on Friday against Billings Central after losing to Browning Thursday night, in Laurel’s first game of the tournament. Victorious over the Rams, the Locos’ next scheduled matchup was to take place Saturday morning at Skyview for game nine against Park High. Yet, in the midst of all the chaos, the games turned to ghosts as the state tournament became just a shadow to a pandemic prioritized over everything else now. Laurel High School’s last victory, of any sport for a possible long awhile, will be the varsity Locomotive basketball team’s win over rival Central Rams in a First Interstate Auto Arena matchup turnout of 55-47.

Following an anxious and eventful weekend of decisions being made by governments and persons everywhere, one of which was to then shut down all schools in the state for two weeks, the High School Association declared on Monday morning that all MHSA activities would be “indefinitely suspended.”

Additional clarifications were given by the MHSA on Tuesday morning in regards to spring activities:

“Implementing this suspension is taken in part with consultation with public health officials to: implement best practices in slowing the spread of COVID 19 and therefore aid in protection of students and the general public, reduce competitive inequity among member schools, [and] have the opportunity to hold our spring state tournaments/ events on the assigned dates/sites.

During the suspension, MHSA member schools are not to compete in games or contests. Member schools are not to conduct practices in MHSA sanctioned sports or activities at any location. Member schools’ coaches or student athletes are not to hold meetings or schools are not to allow students or coaches to use the school’s athletic facilities for a practices, games or contests in any MHSA sanctioned sport. Open gyms are also suspended during this period.”

Until the reevaluation to take place on April 13, there will be no more official high school activities of any kind here in Montana, and this will depend on the bettering or worsening of COVID-19. In relation to local sports coverage, this means that softball and track-and-field for the Locomotives, track for the Joliet J-Hawks, track and golf for the Park City Panthers, and Stillwater Renegade softball events have all been postponed until further notice. Even the local bowling leagues who do business at the Palace Lanes have taken a back seat to the crisis, closing down the alley until further changes can be accounted for.

For Laurel sports fans, baseball may offer hope for the near future. Little League and the Laurel Dodgers are both ran through national organizations in which higher-up officials make executive decisions affecting the entirety of their organizations, so Laurel Little League and the Dodgers have minute influence on the ultimatum. As of now, all Little League events, including practices, games, and meetings are postponed until April 6. As for what the American Legion has decided for baseball, a meeting is being held today, March 19, to see what the foreseeable future holds for players of the diamond.

At this time, a general consensus has been made that individuals prioritize their own well-being and space over less important means. While competitive sports are a quintessential part of the human race, it may be for the best that athletes, players and coaches alike stay focused on their health, even through isolation. The hope is that by practicing the federally-recommended procedures to slow the spread of the virus, the sooner sports can continue again in complete safety and comfortability.

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