MISSOULA — Could high school baseball find its way into Montana?
The preliminary steps are being taken right now in hopes that it does.
Stevensville High School athletic director Chance Edman has sent in a request to the Montana High School Association that could possibly get the ball rolling on the necessary steps for high school baseball to take place. Edman's request will be heard by the MHSA executive board in January where it will be voted on whether or not the board will send out a survey to schools asking about their interest in adding high school baseball.
"There's plenty of interest in our community to add high school baseball so we decided to take on the formal process with MHSA," said Edman, who played American Legion Baseball for the Bitterroot Bucs and in college at Gonzaga. "We gave our evidence and reasons for why we think it's a good sport to add and MHSA will take it from there."
However, the move is a starting point for a long process. According to MHSA director Mark Beckman, the process is different than in years past, too. Because the MHSA annual meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 18, is going to be held virtually, the MHSA is not going to entertain any membership proposals because school representatives will not be able to be there in person.
So the process now is that Edman's proposal is defined as a request and was submitted to the MHSA executive board. The board will conduct a meeting on Jan. 11 and will vote on whether or not to survey schools about their opinions on adding high school baseball to other MHSA-sanctioned activities.
The typical procedure to add an MHSA activity is that a proposal must be submitted at the annual meeting to ask for a committee to be made to study the activity. If that passes, the committee is formed and their recommendations are brought back to the annual meeting the following year, and the membership will vote on whether they'll add the activity or not.
If the executive board votes to survey schools to gauge interest on adding high school baseball on Jan. 11, then survey information will be collected throughout the state from each school and the board will then decide on whether or not to vote to form a committee to study high school baseball based on that gathered information. The board can also opt to decline surveying schools and have the proposal brought to the annual meeting in 2022.
If the survey takes place and a clear majority is in favor of high school baseball, the board could then vote on whether or not to form a committee to study the sport, and those findings would then be brought to the 2022 annual meeting and voted on whether or not to add the sport.
While not traditional, this route for the request ensures that things are not delayed and can move forward, albeit in a different fashion. Beckman said in his 24 years, he's seen similar proposals for high school baseball come forward about three or four times before.
"It gives an opportunity for the board to say, 'Yeah, we'll take a look at this by maybe providing the schools the opportunity to take a survey,'" Beckman said.
Beckman said in the past scenarios, the proposals didn't pass to a point where a committee was formed. Concerns he's seen in the past include the number of spring sports already offered and whether it would take students from those sports, costs, and the effects it would have on the American Legion Baseball scene in Montana.
Montana is one of just three states in the United States that doesn't allow high school baseball, with Wyoming and South Dakota being the others.
"It has come up before, I know some of the hurdles we need to overcome for this one, so we tried to address some of those things in the proposal," Edman said. "The sport has a solid foundation of participation and we believe that adding high school baseball will only build on that.
"Baseball is the No. 4 high school sport for boys in the country. Participation is growing as opposed to some of the other sports like football, so I think it's on the rise and I think it's time for Montana to capitalize on it and add it as a sport."
While cost to schools is a concern, Edman suggested that pairing high school baseball with softball might help ease that. The teams could travel together that way, and most communities already have baseball facilities.
Edman's proposal comes hand-in-hand with a petition making the rounds online proposing the addition of high school baseball. Lucas McCormick, a former Stevensville School Board member and baseball father, started the petition on Nov. 21.
McCormick has been involved with youth baseball in the Bitterroot Valley and has been a sponsor for the Bucs Legion baseball team in the past. McCormick said he believes the Legion programs do a good job -- and said he has spoken to some Legion coaches who support this -- but that the commitment levels for travel and costs are getting to be too challenging, and because of that, some kids stop playing baseball. For parents, travel costs to watch their kids play also add up and taking time off of work can be difficult.
"What kind of prompted all of the discussion to start was the level of interest that's clearly there," McCormick said. "To me, it's a no-brainer. This is the United States of America and Montana doesn't have baseball in high school. It just seems silly when you've got so many other sports being played in the spring. Why we shouldn't have this and operate the same way every other state does where the high school programs create a pretty big pool of players and then the summer programs can harvest off of those to continue with the kids who want to play more or the kids who may be college-bound who want the extra reps. So that's kind of the genesis of it."
So to aid with Edman's formal request, McCormick began the petition as a way to get the word out as well as find proof that there are those out there who want high school baseball added into the mix. Once the meeting in January arrives, McCormick wants to submit the petition results to the MHSA, or send it with Stevensville as part of the school's formal request, to be used in the discussion. As of Thursday afternoon, the petition has more than 1,200 signatures.
"These schools are all funded by taxpayers, and the taxpayers need to be given a chance to support or not support something like this," McCormick said. "We do have representation in our schools, but the representation needs to hear from our taxpayers and I think that a petition that can be circulated online like this is a good way to show that level of interest and to generate discussion."