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Athletics outlook bumpy, but optimistic

It may have seemed like Montgomery County high school sporting events were being postponed or canceled right and left during November and December — only to see them ramped up in the first two weeks of January.

Or it may seem like more and more teams have been impacted by COVID-19 with each passing day.

Both answers are correct, and with a decision made by local officials — athletics will continue as long as each individual team is able — contrary to what took place the last two months of 2020.

In November, the three schools and local health officials decided to be proactive by preventing teams from playing schools that reside in a county that were in the red based on the Indiana State Health Department county metrics. A red county indicates the county is averaging 200 or more cases per 100,000 residents per week and has a 15% or greater 7-day all test positivity rate.

Montgomery County moved into the red on Wednesday, Dec. 23, and currently has a case rate of 649 cases per 100,000 residents per week and a positivity rate of 21.01%. Despite Montgomery County not moving into the red until late December, many surrounding counties were red as early as November — prompting many postponements and cancellations for basketball, swimming, and wrestling teams.

“It was also in part to try and protect our athletes when we were having fewer infections to play a school with a higher prevalance to pose a higher irsk to our folks,” Montgomery County health officer Dr. Scott Douglas said. “but then when our numbers went up our risk to ourselves was about the same as to playing another county (in red).”

And despite the post-Thanksgiving spike in cases, the schools didn’t see a substantial uptick in community spread inside the schools, allowing them to return to a more normal schedule for athletic events following Christmas.

“We three districts have been working collaboratively and closely with the health department from the very beginning,” Southmont Schools Superintendent Shawn Greiner said. “Given the health departments’ support for the shift, we determined that this move was appropriate.”

There are still many restrictions in place, including a limit on spectators, usually restricted to family members only, no concession stands, social distancing at all times, and a mask requirement.

Still, teams have continued to have quarantine situations where games have been postponed or canceled. In the fall, out of 21 Montgomery County teams, only one had to postpone multiple games due to internal issues. That has been far from the case this winter.

Crawfordsville’s boys’ basketball team has played just five games and is not scheduled to play again until Friday, Jan. 22. North Montgomery boys’ basketball has been on pause since Jan. 2, while the girls’ basketball team has been quarantined on two different occasions. Southmot’s girls’ basketball team has played 11 games, but with only two weeks left on the schedule, it is unlikely the Mounties will play a full 22-game schedule.

In the fall, both the Sagamore Conference girls’ golf and cross country tournaments were conducted with full attendance by each team. Last week the SAC wrestling meet convened with gaping holes in almost every bracket due to quarantines, low numbers, and grades. The SAC swimming and diving meet will be held on Saturday at Crawfordsville with a handful of top swimmers not on the heat sheets.

However, with the beginning of state tournaments just a couple weeks away, Dr. Douglas is hopeful things won’t worsen any further.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen the complete surge we would expect to see following the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, so our numbers are still going up, but they are not going up at the same rate we saw them jump up after Thanksgiving. I think some of the increased mitigation measures in the community are helping to slow down that spike, and I think folks are trying to be more careful knowing that we are in the red.”

Looking ahead to the spring, with the advancement of the COVID-19 vaccine, and return to outdoor activities, many are hopeful spring sports, which were canceled altogehther in 2020, will operate on a similar level of success as fall of 2020 sports, or even better.

“Once we get to those outdoor sports we can let our guard down a little bit,” Dr. Douglas said. “It will be a relief. but right now there’s still some anxiety about the winter sports and what might happen in the state in the next two weeks in terms of numbers and we just have to keep an eye on them day-by-day.”

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