The Havre High golf teams were the first to start the new season, the first to compete out of town, and the first to go on an overnight trip during the pandemic. Now, through focus and vigilance, the Ponies are nearing a postseason that some thought may never come


Last updated 9/17/2020 at 8:45am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High junior Kale Reno chops during a dual meet against Lewistown earlier this month at Prairie Farms Golf Course. The Blue Ponies have been going this season since Aug. 13, with high school golf being the first high school sport to return during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Havre High golf teams went first.

In the high school sports return to play, no sport has been going longer in the COVID-19 pandemic than Class AA and A golf. It began on March 13, and is already down to just three weeks.

For the Blue Ponies, this week marks the end of the regular season, as Havre travels to the Billings Central Invite today and the Laurel Invite Friday. And it's been a unusual, but still rewarding regular season for Havre head coach George Ferguson, who is looking forward to watching his teams finish the journey.

"It's gone pretty good," Ferguson said. "I don't think any of us can say it's been easy., So much is different about this season, so much is different about the world and school than the last time we were all playing sports. So it's had its challenges. But, it's gone really well for us so far, and I think that's a testament to our kids and their dedication."

The challenges, Ferguson said, begin each day with health checking nearly 40 golfers before practice, something that he admits, took some time to become routine. Then, there's been cancellations. Havre didn't attend the season-opening Great Falls Invitational, and, because the East Glacier Park Lodge didn't open this season due to COVID-19 closures on the Blackfoot Reservation, the Browning Invite, which is held at that course, wasn't played this year either.

Of course, there's logistics, too. Face coverings have become a part of all high school fall sports, even one's like golf, which is played outdoors. What is allowed at tournaments has also been altered, with only 45 players allowed on nine-hole courses, and 90 players at 18-holes courses.

"There was a lot we had to kind of get used to, that wasn't normal," Ferguson said. "And that took time. Getting kids to make sure they're masked up when they're supposed to, to be distanced when they needed to be, especially at practice, and to just kind of adapt to the new rules that the MHSA set forth, and the rules of golf in general during this pandemic, those things all took time. But I think our kids have done a great job with it. I know this stuff isn't easy for them either, so I'm proud of the way they're handling it all.

"I think for me, though, it hasn't necessarily been the logistics of all this, but more just the mental side of it," Ferguson continued. "The MHSA, Havre Public Schools, our administration, Brian (Kessler), I think they have done a great job of giving us the blueprint in how to operate and how to get to play during this time. I really appreciate all they have done to get sports back up and running. So, from there, as a head coach, I kind of just followed their lead. But then beyond that it's been hard at times because, as a head coach, you worry about all your kids, every day. You worry about every little thing, when it comes to their safety. That's a big part of being a head coach. Our kids' safety, their mental and their physical health, that's always a top priority for us as coaches. But then you have the times we're living in now, and it just adds to that worry. I know for me, making sure I'm doing everything I possibly can to keep our kids healthy, safe, protected as best I can when they're with me, it's been something that never leaves my mind, it's pretty much something I'm thinking about all the time. So, as a head coach, I think that's been a big challenge, but it's also one I knew and understood well before the season started."

Indeed. Ferguson was well aware of the challenges even high school golf would face during the coronavirus. And while he fully admits it's been stressful at times, seeing his teams be able to enjoy competing, and doing quite well, as the Havre boys and girls have both finished no worse than third at any tournament this season, he says it's been fully worth it. He also knows what it would have been like had fall sports not been able to be played, because, as the longtime head coach of the Blue Pony tennis teams, he already went through that feeling when spring sports were canceled.

"It's been exciting to be a part of all this," Ferguson said. "It's been exciting to see our kids come back to sports, and come back to school. And our golf kids, they've done great. They're playing good golf this fall, practices have been very productive, and I think, just seeing the kids get back to some sort of normal, that's been very gratifying. I mean, last spring was hard. To not be able to play, that was awful. So I couldn't imagine going through that again. It was really tough, and I'm glad we're back out there playing now. It's been a lot of fun, and honestly, once we're actually out on the course playing, it's been pretty normal, too."

Well, somewhat normal anyway. During this pandemic, nothing is truly normal, but golf is golf, and the Ponies are remaining diligent in how they approach this season, and that's for many reasons, including getting to the finish line. After this weekend, Havre will prepare for the postseason, with the Eastern A Divisional Sept. 25 in Billings, and the Class A state tournament a week later at the Butte Country Club.

"We're going to make sure we keep doing what we're supposed to do, which is following the protocols and procedures put in place to keep all of us safe," Ferguson said. "We're going to do that so we can have a full season. That's the goal, and honestly, I don't think many people thought we'd get there, but now, as long as we keep doing what we've been doing, we have that chance. We have the opportunity to make it to the postseason, and our kids deserve that chance. Our seniors that made the varsity this year, they deserve the chance to go to state and finish this journey they started four years ago. So I'm going to keep working hard to make sure myself, and our teams do what needs to be done to make that happen. And again, I'm proud of all of our kids for what they've done this season. They've done what we've asked of them, which, is a lot. And hopefully, knock on wood, that will get us to the finish line. That will get us to Butte and the state tournament. That's the goal, and these kids are so close to accomplishing that now.

"We've already accomplished a lot," he added. "We've had our seniors get to have senior day, our junior varsity has gotten in a couple of tournaments, we've been to most of our tournaments, and we've had our teams have a lot of success already. So it's already been a good season, and now we have a chance to finish it, and that's really exciting."

Havre plays at Eaglerock Golf Club in the Billings Central Invite today, and at the Laurel Country Club in the Laurel Invitational on Friday.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre's Sylvie McKeon-Hanson hits during a tournament earlier this month in Havre. The Ponies finish the regular season today in Billings and Friday in Laurel.


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