BILLINGS — Add the Montana Open Wrestling Tournament to the list of sporting events canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizers made the decision to cancel the event, which was scheduled for March 28-29 at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark, on Monday night.
A statement emailed to 406mtsports.com from the Montana Open Tournament Committee said: "To the Great Supporters of the Montana Open: In accordance with the recommendations of local and national health agencies, we have decided to cancel the upcoming 2020 Montana Open. While this decision is a difficult and disappointing one, the safety of our great wrestlers and their families remains our top priority. We will be processing refunds for all wrestler registrations and coaches passes purchased. The committee is already planning the next tournament and is committed to keeping registration fees at their current levels, despite incurring significant and unrecoverable expenses this year. We want to thank all that have supported this great tournament in the past and we are looking forward to hosting this top-tier competition in the future!"
This was to have been the 15th annual tournament. The past three years set wrestler participation records, including 2,115 last year at the Metra. Late-morning attendance on the first day was 2,400.
In 2018, 1,945 wrestlers competed and the 2017 participation count was 1,640.
The tournament traditionally offers divisions for wrestlers 6 and under through 18 and under.
Jason Wiers of Bozeman, who serves as the tournament director, said plans call for the tourney to return to the Metra on March 27-28, 2021. He also said organizers have dates reserved in 2022.
"Our desire and goal is to hold the tournament in 2021 at First Interstate Arena and hopefully be back to the way things were at that point," Wiers told 406mtsports.com.
Last year, wrestlers from Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, California and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Alberta competed.
On Sunday, Montana governor Steve Bullock said public K-12 schools in the state were to close for two weeks. He also encouraged people to practice social distancing, recommending a limit of 50 people per gathering.
"It started with the governor's decision last night," Wiers said. "Everything in the last 24 hours took the decision out of our hands."
While there is disappointment, Wiers said public safety comes first. He did say organizers are aiming to make next year's tourney special, as it will mark the 15th Montana Open.
"You can't help but feel the disappointment when an event doesn't go the way you want it to go," Wiers said. "But if we can't do it this year, let's make sure 2021 is spectacular."
Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL
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