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Wildfire smoke irritates Montana school sports scene

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The Hamilton Lady Bronx are all set for their rivalry with the Corvallis Blue Devils on September 3rd. In the fall of 2021, when the women’s football team of the two national teams took the pitch for the last time, the match ended in a 1–1 draw for him. Both sides had a win to start the 2022 conference season.

But as Lady Bronx sat on her bus in Corvallis, smoke from the region’s wildfires continued to rise over the Bitterroot Valley. Coach Angela Fett had observed her hourly air quality data from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality approaching an “unhealthy” red. Before her team could leave their seats, the phone rang. Smoke too thick.

The opening week of the 2022 fall school sports season was hit by wildfire smoke in western Montana. Schools have canceled practices indoors and postponed or canceled games due to repeated unhealthy air quality. Missoula County Public Schools notified parents of such cancellations on his Sept. 12, stating, “Once air quality reaches ‘unhealthy’ levels, MCPS will suspend all outdoor activities, including breaks, as appropriate. We will move to an indoor space.” Similar notices were issued on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the DEQ website continuing to rank the region in the red.

Tyson Tucker, Vice Principal and Athletic Director of Corvallis High School, said: “Then all of a sudden, a bang, it hits you and you squeak to a stop.”

Occasional breaks in the smog allowed some student-athletes to hit the field in September, but unpredictable weather patterns forced coaches and athletic directors to keep a close eye on state reports of rapid changes. increase. The Lady Bronx and Loyola’s match against his Breakers in Hamilton on September 8 went ahead as planned, but the school varsity men’s soccer match that day was canceled due to poor air quality. discontinued on time. The team will have to reconvene at a later date to make up for the rest of the gameplay, with Loyola Rams trailing 0-1 on him.

“If they come down here, will we make up for the half we missed? [to Missoula], or go back there? Loyola’s Director of Athletic Her, Kelli Matheny, spoke of the logistical challenges caused by the situation, saying: “Obviously they want us there because they want home field, right?”

Air quality in Bitterroot is particularly bad, having been listed as “Very Unhealthy” for the first half of the week, the worst in the state. Florence Carlton High School announced Monday the cancellation of its junior varsity football game against Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula and the JV soccer game against Hamilton, with the Lady Bronx rescheduled for Tuesday. Corvallis also missed his second chance at the game. Fett said the two teams will play back-to-back next Tuesday and Thursday, smoke permitting.

“I’ve only been encouraging them not to stick with this game for too long,” said Fett. “Let’s move on. I hope the air quality improves. That energy and enthusiasm has to carry over to the next game. There’s nothing we can do today.”

“Our cross-country team has been doing laps in high school. [hallways], cheering at the foyer at the entrance of the gymnasium. And we have a rotation in the morning and afternoon hours and even have a dreaded 6 to 8 spot in the evening so people can hit the gym. ”

Brian Gum, Athletic Director, Stevensville High School

When it comes to conference games, Fett and others say rescheduling is both necessary and challenging. For example, the first round of the soccer playoffs started on his October 15th, leaving him with little flex time to accommodate the postponement, leaving the student-athlete in a position to play multiple tough matches in a short amount of time. increase. Brian Gum, director of physical education at Stevensville High School, said Montana schools are facing years of referee shortages, and smoking adds to the complexity of rebooking canceled games. did.

On the other hand, coordinating practice needs between multiple teams and sports games with limited indoor space can be a challenge. According to Tucker, one day at school this week in Corvallis, he saw two volleyball teams practicing in a large gymnasium, varsity football practicing in a smaller gymnasium, followed quickly by soccer, and JV football was the only place. I was practicing wrestling in his room. Available. “It’s tough, it’s ridiculous, it’s frustrating,” he said.

“It’s very frustrating,” Gumm said. “Our cross-country team has been doing laps in high school. [hallways], cheering at the foyer at the entrance of the gymnasium. And we have a rotation in the morning and afternoon hours and even have a dreaded 6 to 8 spot in the evening so people can hit the gym. “

Despite these challenges, away games in low-smoke areas of the state have proven to be a saving grace for Bitterroot schools, and school officials have taken several measures to save the sports schedule. are taking creative steps. Tucker said Corvallis had moved their home game to East Helena this weekend, which has better air quality, and Gumm said rather than risk a smoke-related cancellation, Stevensville will play college football matches against Browning High School. I explained how I negotiated the transfer of the match.To Ronan.

Students, of course, bear the brunt of the unpredictability. The athletic director acknowledged that indoor practice is no substitute for the full-energy experience of skill-building typically outdoors, and Fett said that the Lady Bronx players would be better prepared for the canceled games, especially 2. He said he was understandably “disappointed” by the re-formed rivalry match. But these students have proven resilient, especially after his two seasons colored by the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the last few years have taught us all to be flexible and appreciate what we have, because we have seen places where we haven’t been able to play sports on a regular basis,” Fett said. Said.

In other words, the smoke will clear, as it did in Missoula on Thursday — just in time for Loyola to host back-to-back national team soccer games against the Corvallis Blue Devils. In between, Matheny was hovering over the stands. Her fingers are still crossed as to whether Bozeman’s air quality will hold up for Friday’s varsity football showdown with her school at Montana State University’s Bobcats Stadium. was doing. But before the men’s soccer team took to the pitch, her mind was preoccupied with another recommendation threatening to postpone yet another spot in her schedule, she said. There was, but it had nothing to do with smoke.

“Lightning,” Matheny said.