It is wrestling tournament time in Cut Bank! That is good news, mostly because it was not a given, based on the pandemic the country has been dealing with for almost a year now, that post-season tournaments would be allowed. But tournament time it is!

Cut Bank is hosting the Class B-C Western Divisional Wrestling Tournament on  Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26-27 in the Willie DeGroot  Gymnasium.

Randi Larson is one of the key organizers of this tournament and while she is happy Cut Bank gets to host the big event, she and everyone else involved knows it comes with its fair share of challenges.

The Montana High School Association (MHSA) dictates the rules for large gatherings for high school sports competitions, said Randi. “They have made the rules and we have no choice but to follow them. It is their way of doing crowd control. We are just happy we get to have the event and have a few spectators.”

The “few spectators” means each participating athlete and manager are allowed four guest passes. Randi said those tickets are all being pre-sold at the price of $20 each. They are available at each of the schools participating in the tournament. When you pick up the tickets, your name will be added to a list and that list is checked when you arrive at the Cut Bank gym, allowing the ticket holder admittance.

“No other spectators or visitors will be allowed to attend and for that, we are very sorry. Cut Bank has a big wrestling community here and we feel very sad we can’t allow those folks that don’t have an athlete participating, into the event,” she said. “Again, those are MHSA rules, not ours.”

Another MHSA rule for the tournament will be to try and keep those fans and teams in a specific section designated for them in the bleachers of the gym. “It will be like having assigned seating,” Randi explained. “Each team or town will get their own section in the bleachers and we are asking them to stay in those ‘pod’ sections during the tournament.”

These rules are not new for wrestlers. During the regular season, each athlete was given two guest passes. “We have such a large facility, that MHSA said we could have the athletes give out four passes. We feel very fortunate to be able to do that.”

With social distancing issues hopefully covered and crowd control also covered, the only other piece of concern was whether or not face masks will be required. 

Cut Bank High School Principal and Athletic Director Tres Genger stated, “Wearing of masks is highly encouraged and recommended, especially when appropriate social distancing is not possible.”

The tournament will feature two sessions on Friday, a morning session starting at 9 a.m. and the afternoon session will start at 3:30 p.m. Saturday’s tourney action will start at 9:30 a.m.

 In between sessions on Friday, Randi said the gym will be cleared and then fogged before the afternoon session of athletes and spectators are allowed in. Mats will be cleaned in between rounds and each wrestler will be changing their uniforms after each match. 

“We are truly trying to find a way to do the best we can in a difficult situation,” she explained.

Randi pointed out much of the same protocols being followed for the divisional wrestling tournament will be put in place for the state tournament in Shelby the following weekend.

“We really want the kids to have a post season and if we can do that safely by following guidelines dictated by MHSA, then that is what we will do,” she said.

If you are wanting to see the wrestling tournament, but are unable to attend the meet, Randi said it will be broadcast on two different medias, trackwrestling.com and the NFHS network. 

While it is good news a tournament gets to take place, Gail Hofstad, Principal of Cut Bank Middle School, said it is also good news they get to open the concession stand for the athletes, coaches and spectators. 

Gail and a group of Close-Up students and other volunteers will be manning the concessions during the tournament serving up more than just the popcorn, pop and candy they had been able to do during regular season games and meets.

“We are anticipating having full concessions available during the weekend event,” Gail confirmed. “We will have the adults in charge of cooking and the kids in charge of serving. Everyone will be masked and gloved-up and we will sanitize and clean everything throughout the day and evening.”

Gail said she has heard over and over how people missed having full concessions. “We know a lot of people will be happy to see the concessions back in full swing again,” she said. “We are expecting a large crowd to be on hand.”

Concessions are a good money-maker for the Close-Up kids, which is definitely one of the reasons Gail and the other volunteers wanted to see this happen. “I do it for the kids,” she agreed. “Their organization makes some good money during these tournaments.”

This divisional tournament used to just be for the northern tier of the state, but Randi said this is the first year the northern and western parts of the state will combine for a divisional tournament. That makes it an even bigger event than before.

“We are expecting 24 teams and approximately 250 athletes,” she stated. “We are going to do the best we can for everyone involved. It should be a great weekend.”

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