Basketball

Due to a scheduling conflict, the Montana High School Association confirmed Monday that the combined state Class B basketball tournament has been moved to Belgrade.

The tournament had been scheduled for March 7-9 in Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. But the Montana State University women’s basketball team is hosting a pair of Big Sky Conference games that weekend to wrap up the regular season.

Mark Beckman, executive director of the MHSA, said a memo was sent out to Class B schools about the change of venue. The tournament was awarded to MSU two years ago, but last year the Big Sky Conference made a change to its schedule and extended the season by a week.

“MSU, of course, didn’t know of this conflict when it bid the tournament,” the memo reads. “Now they have two home women’s basketball games on that weekend because of the schedule change. The MSU women play on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon.

“We met with the facilities staff to see if we could come up with a schedule that would work for us (using Belgrade’s Event Center in addition for some games) and to also allow the required game day shoot arounds and Friday practices for MSU and their opponents. With our tight schedule and the MSU women’s team wanting their shoot arounds and practices on the arena floor, the schedule wouldn’t work out.”

The executive board noted that no other large facilities were available that weekend, and in order to keep it in the area the board approved holding the entire tournament in Belgrade.

The Belgrade Special Events Center has long been a backup site should any conflicts arise when tournaments are held at MSU, and Belgrade Activities Director Rick Phillips is excited about the opportunity to host the event.

“It will be full,” he said. “And that event center is definitely a special place when there’s a lot of people in there.”

Belgrade last hosted the girls’ Class C tournament in 2017. This will be the first time a combined state tournament will be held at the venue, however.

“It’s really just an opportunity for us to showcase our great facility that we have and have people in the town of Belgrade helping to increase our economy,” said Phillips.

The events center has a seating capacity of 5,500, while the fieldhouse can accommodate around 8,500, so the board also elected to expand the tournament to four days (beginning March 6) to help alleviate overcowding. The boys will begin Wednesday and finish on Friday, while the girls begin Thursday and wrap up Saturday.

With construction still ongoing due to the expansion project at Belgrade High School, Phillips has acknowledged that parking will be a concern. The school is looking at several options.

“We’re just now starting to brain storm. I know that some local churches have offered to open their parking lots for people to park at,” he said. “And I know that MSU had a lot of buses that park way far away and they just offered a shuttle for those bus drivers to come back. That might be something we’re looking for to try and free up the space as close as we can to the school for individual parking.”

Volunteers are being sought to help run the tournament.

“MSU already had several people that were ready to work the tables and they’ve offered their people that were going to do those to come out here and work ours. But we’ve got a lot of people that understand our system and how we run things and we’ll certainly give them an opportunity and a crack at that,” said Phillips. “We’re gracious to MSU to offer the help, but Belgrade has put on a lots of tournaments over the years. So we’re open to having anybody that’s interested in assisting us with the tournament to step up and let us know that you’re interested. We’ll find a place for them to help us.”