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Pandemic hits all sports, right down to the District 9C

 

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

North Star's Caden Rettig long jumps during the District 9C track meet last May in Havre. Teams from the 9C would be getting ready for the this year's district meet, but like all other 9C sports, and sports across the globe that will not happen this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been roughly three months since the first moments that the sports world fell victim to the COVID-19 concern. Even if Montana was one of the last states to cancel multiple seasons and events, there has still been much missed since then. Spring sports have been canceled, summer sports are iffy and the future of sports is still relatively uncertain.

These past three months have been tough for high school sports especially, where the spring season would have been the first for some and the last for others, including those among the District 9C. Schools like Fort Benton, North Star, Chinook, Chester-Joplin-Inverness, Hays Lodge-Pole, Box Elder, Big Sandy and Turner have all been hurt by the loss of the spring sports season. And it has been some time since there has been an update regarding the state of the 9C.

With that, District 9C president and Chinook High School Activities Director Paula Molyneaux provided an update on how the 9C has been faring in regard to the COVID-19 concern putting a halt on many things, like future schedules for sports.

"The 9C is alive and well," Molyneaux said "We didn't get to conduct our spring meetings to plan for our 2020-21 school year, but we have been holding virtual meetings via Zoom and doing our best to coordinate schedules. I feel fortunate to work with such a great group of athletic directors, who have been willing to make the best of an unfortunate situation."

Technology has become an important factor now more than ever for schools. Education is online, student-athletes have been working through online formats to be recruited by college sports programs and like Molyneaux said, meetings for the future sports season are being conducted online.

The whole situation has been a lot to take in for the 9C. Ever since the decision that the Montana High School Association made in canceling the spring sports season, there has been a void that cannot be filled in Montana. There is a lot of loss felt within the 9C, with hopes that that loss will not span too long.When it came to the MHSA's decision to officially cancel spring sports, North Star High School Activities Director Brian Campbell shared his thoughts on the cancellation and how it has affected the student-athletes of the 9C.

"I appreciate that the MHSA did its due diligence in trying to find a way to have a spring season," Campbell said. "Montana was one of the last states to cancel their spring sports season. That being said, it is really a sad day for Montana student-athletes, especially our senior athletes that have now finished their high school activities. The cancellation was probably inevitable, but that doesn't change the fact that it was a big deal to many of our students."

The loss of spring sports was felt all around the 9C. Coaches previously had workout plans laid out for athletes at home in case the season happened, but now there is no season and coaches are pained for their teams over the loss. There are many important moments within sports that the 9C has seen over the years, but the spring of 2020 will not have those moments.

Molyneaux feels that the loss of what would have been another exciting spring sports season and the student-athletes that do not get to compete is huge, too.

"We are all very sad to have lost not only contact with the students in our final quarter of the academic year, but also our athletes in spring activities." Molyneaux said. "Without any spring sporting events it seems like we are all feeling a little lost, like we have forgotten to do something important. I especially feel bad for our 9C athletes and coaches. It has been difficult to miss out on activities that all of us really enjoyed as well as missing that high level of competition, that we were all so used to experiencing statewide."

From the quarantine to the first phase of the re-opening that Gov. Steve Bullock put in place, coaches and student-athletes have been struggling to comprehend what has happened. Even with certain things starting to open back up within Phase I, there is still not a lot athletes in the 9C can do now without their season.

"At this time, our teams are not doing much," Campbell said. "There really is not anything that we can do. We are in a wait-and-see mode just like so many other people affected by the pandemic. Honestly, the school's focus right now is more on graduation and the end of the school year. Activities have taken a back seat since the cancellation."

As the months have gone by, COVID-19 has heavily damaged the immediate future of sports, but Molyneaux knows that just because the 9C may be down, it does not mean that it can not get back up.

"On COVID -19, I am not sure what to think," Molyneaux said. "I am thankful for the online learning and contact options and our student-athletes, administration and staff. In these times of uncertainty, I have just been taking it day by day with the hope that the future returns us to good health and normal activities as soon as possible. It is tough in this situation to keep striving, to reach for your own personal top level, but I also think that it is very important to not give up. To stay motivated and to keep working toward our best in whatever daily activities that we can be involved in."

There has been much to look back on during the time since spring sports have been canceled. Many coaches and athletes have been spending some of the time looking back on what they have accomplished and what they wish they could have gotten the chance to accomplish this year. After all, the District 9C basketball tournament was literally the last high school sporting event to take place on the Hi-Line.

Campbell is among those people, as he shared his reflections in regard to what he has been able to take away from the current situation.

"We have not been able to get together much as a district lately," Campbell said. "I think we have all learned a little individually and when we are able to get back together, we will discuss issues concerning the virus and how we can apply the things we learned in the future."

"The loss of spring sports and the inability to experience the competition and camaraderie that develops between the various communities as they come together to watch the kids compete is the hardest hit the 9C took," Molyneaux added. "Personally, I missed the sunny days on the track where there was always an opportunity to watch amazing performances and to reap the rewards of helping an athlete achieve a personal best. I also missed interacting with my fellow coaches and nagging at the kids to wear sunscreen so they gained a track tan and not a track burn."

At the end of the day, this is been a first time experience for many coaches and athletes in the 9C. Campbell, who, like Molyneaux, is also a head track coach, and would be gearing up for next week's District 9C Meet, shared his experience over the time that sports were put on a standstill.

"It has been a lonely experience," Campbell said "My family is probably tired of me being around as much as I have been. Honestly though, high school athletics are about the relationships formed and this pandemic has really made it difficult to maintain those relationships. Due to the distance and regulations, the relationships have not had a chance to grow and thrive like they normally do."

And as spring sports are gone, summer sports face the same possible jeopardy. But, the future of sports, mainly the 2020 fall sports season, are looking a little more hopeful in regard to having a season. But nothing is certain as of now. There is a lot that could happen in between now and then. Still, this hope is what many teams and schools are holding on to.

There is still hope for a fall season and in Molyneaux's case, she is prepared for the possible contingencies that might come about in the future when it comes to fall sports.

"Right now, I am operating on the idea that the fall will go as per usual, however, in the back of my mind I am preparing for the fact that we may have to alter our approach to fit the status of COVID-19 at that time," Molyneaux said. "I hope that when August rolls around, we are closer to holding regular school days with all or our athletics and activities." 

On top of that, there is a lot of different possibilities that could bring future results for another season going into 2021 and beyond. With that in mind, Campbell believes that the current situation will have a big impact on the future of sports among and beyond the 9C.

"I believe that we have to be concerned that our high school athletic landscape has been changed forever," Campbell said. "I do not know how the current situation will directly affect future seasons, but I do know that we have learned things and experienced things in the past three months that will change how we experience high school extracurricular activities in indirect ways forever."

With all the information provided by Molyneaux and Campbell, it is clear that, like sports across the board, the 9C has been touched by the pandemic. But, with hope for the future, the 9C is working hard to make that future, where games can be played and moments can be made, possible for teams, fans and the Hi-Line.

 

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