High School Sports


Belgrade baseball finding way to thrive through adversity before first-ever high school season

Belgrade baseball's Diego Casas
Posted at 4:38 PM, Mar 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-18 21:53:35-04

BOZEMAN — For the first time in history, the Montana High School Association is sanctioning high school baseball. It’s the inaugural season for the MHSA, and the weather is the furthest thing from a normal spring training, but no amount of snow can stop the Belgrade Panthers.

Before this year, Montana was one of three states to not have high school baseball, but now 21 teams in four divisions are sanctioned and in full swing.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time," Belgrade senior Caleb Jacksha said. "Legion is nice and all, but it’s time to catch up with everyone else and get high school baseball.”

And the coach is Belgrade’s own Joel Barnett. He saw much success playing for Belgrade’s Legion team growing up, and now is the face of the first-ever team at the town's high school.

“It’s so great to be the first coach ever at this high school, I feel so honored," Barnett said. "I have such great pride in this community.”

Although the anticipation is at an all-time high, the conditions for this sport in this state are not ideal. There’s no heavy equipment allowed on the field to clear the snow, so they’ve been forced to prepare indoors every single day since preseason started.

“Our practices are still moving fast, our players are moving fast, unfortunately we could be moving a lot faster if we were outside, so as a coaching staff we have to get real creative, but I think we’re doing a good job of getting these guys ready for the season,” Barnett said.

Being forced inside isn’t the only obstacle the team has faced so far.

“Caleb Hoppe, he blew out his UCL, so we dealt with some adversity right away," Barnett said. "It was his first bullpen he threw for us, he was just getting loose and heard the pop. But, he’s still a huge part of this team, he’s been a great manager for us.”

But the team isn’t letting their spirits sink, instead they are focused on one major goal they hope to achieve at the end of this first season.

“Win the whole thing," Jacksha beamed. "Set the tone for everyone else. Belgrade is a baseball town and really just set the tone for who we are and what we’re going to do.”

Baseball town, a phrase that every person interviewed made sure to say. Why is Belgrade known for America’s pastime?

“It’s just what we’ve always been good at and what we do best," senior Cameron Ueland said.

Baseball is the culture in Belgrade, and they’re set on proving to everyone why.

“We’ve got to work as a team and put the team before ourselves," senior Diego Casas said. "Just be unselfish.”

Their first game of the season is scheduled for Tuesday at East Helena. They do not expect to be able to play outside before then, if they’ve shown anything so far it’s that they can handle the obstacles of mother nature.