GFPS plans to add baseball as a sanctioned high school sport

Great Falls Public Schools officials are considering adding baseball as a Montana High School Association sanctioned sport for the spring 2024 high school season.

At the April 11 school council meeting, GFPS Sports Director Mike Henneberg discussed the proposal.

The MHSA voted in January to add baseball as a sanctioned sport, although it is up to individual districts to add it to their athletic departments.

Henneberg said there were more than 85 votes to add baseball, but he doesn’t anticipate all districts will add the sport.

He said district staff have been discussing adding baseball since January, and that Montana is one of three states that doesn’t have baseball as a high school sport.

Considerations for adding baseball, Henneberg told the board, include increased opportunities for athletes; reduced costs for secondary level players; athlete interest and public support.

He said that the local Legion Baseball Program has about 42 athletes in three levels and the Babe Ruth Leagues for college students have about 69 players.

The goal, if the district adds baseball, is to get 24 to 30 players per high school to have junior and varsity varsity teams.

Henneberg said the local Legion organization and the Travelers expressed their support for the proposal and he received emails from the public in support.

Adding baseball to the GFPS spring sports list will result in one-time start-up costs of about $20,000 per high school, Henneberg said.

He estimated that these costs included:

  • uniforms: approximately $8,000 per school
  • equipment and materials: approximately $8,000 per school
  • miscellaneous costs: approximately $4,000 per school

Annual expenses, estimated by Henneberg based on what the district spends on softball, include:

  • coaching salaries for each school, consisting of a head coach and three softball assistants: base cost of $14,747
  • field rental: $1,400 per school to use the city’s multi-sports complex
  • Referee fee: $5,400 for both schools, based on numbers from 2019, which was the last normal season
  • door workers: around $650 based on 2019 figures

Henneberg estimates the annual cost at around $73,000 for the two schools, therefore. He said in 2019 the district raised about $5,500 in gate admission for softball games, which helps offset some costs.

Community baseball facilities include the Don Olson field, which is on city property and currently leased to the Legion program; Little League Fields at Westside and American Complexes, both of which are large enough for high school baseball and have expressed willingness to provide fields in exchange for maintenance assistance; and Centene Stadium, which would be available for games and cost GFPS about $100 to cover goalie fees, Henneberg said.

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He recommends starting a high school baseball program in the spring of 2024, if the board approves it, to give the district time to properly establish programs, hire coaches, recruit athletes, budget startup and fundraising.

If baseball will be available for athletes from other communities, Henneberg said he wants it to be available for GFPS students.

Concerns, he said, include resource availability and competition with existing spring sports, availability of coaches, buses and weather.

It’s unclear, he said, what other districts are doing in terms of adding baseball.

Another issue to address is equity between men’s and women’s sports.

Henneberg said that currently with girls wrestling, the district has an additional women’s sport, although it could be a fairness argument if the boys are playing under the Centene Stadium lights and the softball teams aren’t. .

Board member Marlee Sunchild said another potential issue could be the availability of indoor practice spaces and batting cages, as there is only one at each school.

Henneberg said there is competition for indoor workout space with existing sports.

Scott Reasoner, general manager of the Voyagers, said they have plans for two indoor batting cages and expect to have them by 2024 and will make them available to the GFPS for baseball programs and softball.

“The Voyagers are very much behind this,” Reasoner said. “It is very necessary.

He said the decline in Little League participation in the Legion is high and largely due to cost and commitment. He said it’s a great program, but it can be expensive for families.

School board member Bill Bronson said there were details to work out regarding cost and equity, but “if we can do it, I’d like to see us do it.”

Henneberg said the district charges a nominal participation fee for extracurricular activities, and in 2019 the district raised athletic fees slightly to help offset costs.

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Current fees are

  • $40.00 for the first extracurricular activity
  • $70.00 for two or more activities
  • Students who receive a free or reduced school lunch receive a 50% reduction in the participation fee.

Henneberg said the fees have been around for years, but are kept low because officials want to make athletics and other extracurricular activities available to all students without prohibitive cost.

“I think we’re a staple for a lot of kids,” Henneberg said, and sports, along with other extracurricular activities, can help keep kids in school.

He said athletics makes up about 2% of the total GFPS budget and most sports do their own fundraising to supplement their programs.

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