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The Montana High School Association will vote next week on whether to make girls’ wrestling a sanctioned sport and whether to make it easier for eighth-graders to play on high school teams.

Bozeman School Board trustees debated Monday supporting 11 proposed changes to high school sports that will be decided when the MHSA meets Jan. 20 in Billings.

School administrators recommended that Bozeman support adding girls’ wrestling, said Mark Ator, activities director. But trustees voiced several concerns.

Ator said girls’ wrestling would increase sports opportunities for girls at a time when the sport is growing across the country and in the Olympics. Women’s wrestling competitions have been held in the Summer Olympics since 2004.

Power lifting would be added for Montana boys to comply with gender equity rulings. Neither would require great cost, he said.

Trustees expressed concern that there might not be enough girls to compete. Ator said a few girls already participate in wrestling, and it might be sparse at first but it would grow.

Luke Terry, student secretary-treasurer and a member of the Hawks wrestling team, said Bozeman High has one girl wrestler now. “I know seven girls who want to wrestle but don’t know if they can,” Terry said.

Trustee Tanya Reinhardt said she’s not that excited about girls’ wrestling and powerlifting, and would rather add lacrosse, “the fastest growing sport in the country right now.”

In the end, the trustees agreed to let Dan Mills, Bozeman High principal and the Bozeman district’s voting delegate, decide how to vote, based on their discussion and what he hears at the MHSA meeting.

Bozeman trustees split 4-4 on whether to support a proposal to make it easier for eighth-graders to join high school sports teams. Administrators opposed the idea.

Eighth-graders can play now, but they have to petition for permission. Schools can only add eighth-graders to basketball, volleyball and track relay teams and only if they need to fill a junior varsity or varsity roster.

This proposal would eliminate the need to petition, Ator said. “They would just be eligible.”

With declining high school enrollment in much of Montana, many small schools have had to join forces and form co-op teams – the number has grown to 200 teams in six years. The number of eighth-graders allowed to play in basketball and volleyball has grown from less than 200 to more than 300.

“We should play nice with the small school districts,” said Trustee Wendy Tage.

Reinhardt said she prefers keeping the current rules because small districts can still use eighth graders, “but it’s not easy. It needs to be the exception.”

Bozeman administrators opposed an MHSA proposal to promote home-school students participating on high school sports teams. Home-school students can participate now if they enroll in four classes at a high school, two of which can be online classes, Ator said.

The proposal would require home-school students to live within the school attendance area and require local school districts to approve the home-school student’s curriculum and grade placement.

“We’d have to hire somebody” to approve home-school curricula, said Trustee Heide Arneson, adding that that’s not part of the public schools’ authority or responsibility.

Bozeman trustees supported another proposal to fine coaches who violate rules by recruiting students from other schools or other districts. Now the school can be fined $100, but “the coach gets a pass,” Arneson said. The offending coach would be suspended for at least one regular varsity game.

Bozeman officials supported changing volleyball tournaments to be more like basketball tournaments. The goal is to ensure the two best volleyball teams competing Saturday night for the championship are both rested and healthy, instead of making one team compete Saturday morning while the Friday night winner can rest up. Since 1998 the AA Friday night winner won the championship match 17 times.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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