MISSOULA — In a 5-4 vote late Tuesday night, the Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees agreed to begin baseball programs at Big Sky, Sentinel, and Hellgate high schools starting in the spring of 2025.
During the nearly two hours of public comment at the MCPS meeting, students and parents extolled the virtues of the sport, citing the character-building, academic success, and scholarship opportunities that baseball can provide. Opponents focused on how an already money-strapped district will need to make tough cuts to pay for the programs.
MCPS superintendent Micah Hill told the trustees that he estimated each of the three teams will cost the district $50,000 for the first year. This did not include extra fees that would come from field rentals or maintenance.
“I don’t think anyone in the room is opposed to baseball,” Hill said. “They just have concerns as we move forward. This is $150,000 that we would potentially be contributing to where previously we haven’t, so what isn’t going to get funded?”
Trustee Jeff Avgeris, who is also a youth baseball coach, said he has seen many kids who love the sport quit because they cannot afford the private league. Montana currently offers American Legion Baseball as an option in the spring or summer.
“Engagement with baseball in this town is through the roof, yet, we’re cutting off kids at the end of middle school,” Avgeris said. “There is no path there.”
Ultimately, the council decided to say yes to baseball, but not at the pace many in the public wanted. With only four months to the start of the 2024 season, district administrators would have struggled to put three baseball programs together. The trustees also put the funding impetus of the 2025 season on private fundraising.
The 2026 season will be paid for out of the MCPS general fund, but will need to be “budget neutral," meaning any money for baseball will need to come from the budgets of other boys sports.
The Montana High School Association approved the addition of baseball in 2022, with the inaugural season taking place this past spring. Currently 21 teams across the state compete, with Butte and Belgrade being the only other Class AA schools in the mix.
With Tuesday’s vote, MCPS becomes the largest school district to buy into state baseball.
With this vote, Seeley-Swan High School will have the option to bring a proposal to the table, and for MCPS to remain Title IX compliant, the district will need to invest in girls sports in equal measure.