MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel High School has been placed on probation by the Montana High School Association.
The MHSA executive board made the decision at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday. The probation will extend to the end of the 2021-22 school year.
The executive board approved the probation status "based upon the violations by Sentinel during the past two years."
Sentinel was fined $100 by the MHSA in 2019 for a football recruiting violation. The school's track and field program came under fire in May when an athlete competed in too many events.
MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman confirmed to 406mtsports.com and the Missoulian on Tuesday afternoon that those are the two issues that landed Sentinel on probation.
"The two serious violations were the recruiting violation in 2019. The board found Missoula Sentinel guilty of recruiting," he said. "Then there was the recent track entry violation."
A school on probation is on conditional MHSA membership. Sentinel can still engage in its regular-season schedule and postseason play provided the school files a program indicating the measures it is taking and will be taking to address the issues that caused the Spartans to be placed on probation by the board, including actions to prevent any future violations.
Beckman noted that Sentinel is not the only school in the state to land on probation in recent years.
"In my 25 years and 18 years as director, there have been a few high schools that have been put on strong probation actually. There's a difference between strong probation and probation," he said.
"This is not to look negatively about what if this happens. We're working with the administrative team there to be proactive, to say, 'What are you going to do to make sure this doesn't happen again? What kind of programs are you going to put in?'"
Sentinel High School principal Ryan Rettig and athletic director Brian Fortmann were present at Monday's MHSA board meeting and answered many questions. Beckman said they were "very cooperative."
In April 2019, the MHSA found Sentinel in violation of the MHSA's recruiting rule of student-athletes. That hearing was closed to give individuals involved the right to privacy because some were not present. After, Beckman said the board came out in open session and, "made a motion that Missoula Sentinel did violate the recruiting is prohibited rule."
According to Beckman, the board issued a private reprimand to Sentinel and fined the school $100. Sentinel's administration was required to send in what they will do in the future to avoid a violation of the same rule.
Beckman indicated that Granite High School in Philipsburg was the school that filed the protest. Though he did not say who the student was, the athlete was believed to be a standout football player who was viewed as one of the Class of 2020's top prospects in the state. Sentinel won the State AA football title in 2020.
Beckman did say the student involved was not found to be guilty of any wrongdoing.
"There was no penalty to any student involved," Beckman said back in 2019.
When contacted by 406mtsports.com back in 2019, former Drummond-Philipsburg (Flint Creek) football coach Mike Cutler said, "No comment. The MHSA board action speaks for itself."
"In my 22 years in the office, this is only the second recruiting rule hearing that I can remember," Beckman said in 2019.
This past May, a controversy involving a standout athlete on the Sentinel girls track and field team clouded the State AA meet in Missoula. The athlete reportedly competed in too many events at the Western AA divisional a week prior. By rule, that would in turn affect her eligibility in the state meet.
Beckman told the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com on May 29 that there was a temporary restraining order issued "by the court" in Missoula allowing the Sentinel athlete to compete in state events at Missoula County Stadium. The issue was resolved before going to a Missoula district court in July.
Sentinel coach Craig Mettler respectfully declined to comment. His girls team won the State AA championship.
In July, a hearing that was scheduled in the Missoula County District Court concerning the dispute between the track and field girls athlete and the MHSA was canceled after the case was dismissed, according to court documents.
Beckman confirmed in a written statement that the two parties decided to resolve the case informally.
“Based on the unique circumstances presented in this particular case, MHSA and the student athlete have determined to resolve the case informally, which renders a hearing on an injunction unnecessary," Beckman's email read.
"MHSA has reserved its authority to investigate and consider the circumstances that gave rise to the situation in the first place and to take action, if warranted. Any such action will not include alteration of the student athlete’s or any schools’ final standings at the Class AA state track and field meet."