Albany County School District No. 1’s school board will decide Wednesday whether to begin offering girls softball at Laramie High School, starting in 2021.
Assuming the school board does approve the proposal, Laramie High School will become the eighth school to commit to the sport — the benchmark for getting the sport sanctioned by the Wyoming High School Activities Association.
When the school board initially voted on whether to offer softball in February, the proposal died on a 4-4 vote.
However, two of the board members who voted no at that meeting indicated this week they’ll vote “aye” next week.
When the proposal originally failed this winter, board members who voted against softball were mostly concerned about the timing of the vote.
With the Legislature still deciding on K-12 funding for the 2020 fiscal year at the time, some board members wanted to wait until they finished their upcoming year’s budget before deciding if funds were available to add a new sport.
Ultimately, an improved revenue picture means the district will actually add to their cash reserves this year.
Board Chair Janice Marshall, who voted against softball this winter, said at a Wednesday work session she now is “comfortable that there is room in our budget to support softball.”
Board member Jason Tangeman, who also originally voted against softball in February, said this week he’ll vote in favor of softball next week “barring something extraordinary happening between now and next Wednesday.”
Before the February vote, Tangeman was the only board member to express concerns besides the budgetary reasons that Superintendent Jubal Yennie had recommended the board not move forward on approving softball at the time.
At the time, Tangeman said he was concerned approving another sport could pull athletes away from other sports and reduce the success of other LHS teams.
Along with an improved financial picture, Tangeman said this week the outpouring of public support for softball also helped sway his vote.
“I heard a lot from non-softball community members,” he said. “I was surprise that there was more support than I realized. … I’m an elected person who tries to take the pulse of the community.”
Those comments came after Laramie Girls Softball board member Nick Hauser gave a half-hour presentation at the work session that indicated LHS should be able to successfully field a softball team in 2021.
His presentation followed the months-long work of an ad hoc committee, which included school board members Mark Bittner and Beth Bear, that toiled through the logistical challenges of field scheduling, competition schedules and budget issues.
Laramie Girls Softball had been the driving force for the district to consider the sport, and Bittner said “it was a pleasure to work these guys.”
“I felt like they responded to questions immediately,” he said.
Likewise, Hauser said the concerns raised by school board members were also “very helpful” in working out the kinks.
While they didn’t explicitly say they’ll vote in favor of softball next week, board members Karen Bienz and Jamin Johnson both said at the work session the committee’s work “answered a lot of questions” they previously had about softball’s feasibility.
Bienz voted against softball in February. Johnson was not on the board at the time, and his appointment to the board filled a vacancy that led to the 4-4 tie vote.
Yennie said that, according to district Athletic Director Ron Wagner, the Laramie community “has probably done more work on this issue than anybody in the state.”
While Laramie Girls Softball currently has 148 participants, only 34 are at least 13 years old.
“We are of the belief that we see a dramatic drop-off in high school because of the options that are available to them,” Hauser said.
Still, Hauser said he thinks Laramie Girls Softball has enough girls on its rosters now to field a varsity team in 2021.
“We have 35 girls with the potential to be there in 2021,” he said. “Now, is it realistic to expect that all 35 girls are going to play when they get into high school? Definitely not. We are going to see attrition, but I would not be surprised at all to have 20 interested girls looking to play softball come 2021.”
If LHS does begin offering the sport that year, Hauser said Laramie Girls Softball would stop fielding club teams for high schoolers.
In February, Tangeman also said he was concerned about the logistics of scheduling fields and being able to find enough good weather in Wyoming’s spring.
The WHSAA’s governing board, when voting this year to start offering the sport in 2021 if eight schools committed, decreed that softball will be played in the spring.
Though he plans to vote to begin offering the sport, Tangeman said he still retains concerns about logistics.
“I believe that baseball is a summer sport in Wyoming,” Tangeman said. “Weather is your biggest challenge, and I am a little disappointed by the flexibility of state softball when presenting it to the WHSSA.”
While playing in the summer might offer better weather, Hauser also said it would also be difficult to incorporate graduating seniors into summer competition.
“I don’t know if that’s a true possibility,” he said. “But I would imagine that would be talked about, because we’re not the only school that might have problems in the spring, with snow or whatnot.”
Hauser said WHSAA Commissioner Ron Laird has so far been “non-committal” about the actual start and end dates for softball because he wants to get input from the schools that intend to offer the sport.
One benefit of the school board approving softball next week is it will “give Laramie a seat at the table” for scheduling decisions, Hauser said.
An advantage softball has over other sports, Hauser said, is girls can play multiple games in a day, which could help reduce the travel schedule.
At the work session, he presented a sample schedule that shows practices could begin in early March and end after a state tournament in mid-May; that schedule would have both double-headers and “round robin” events, where a team would play multiple schools on single day.
“I really think there is an opportunity to be creative when it comes to the actual game scheduling,” Hauser said.
Hauser’s sample schedule also found room for 43 practices.
“That’s probably a little bit overboard, but I’ll leave that up to Mr. Wagner or whoever else is making that decision.”
Even after LHS begins offering the sport, Hauser said Laramie Girls Softball will still be invested in the program’s success.
“We want to see the cleats in the dirt,” Hauser said. “We want to see a championship parade in Laramie. We want to see a girl from Laramie go play college. That would be really cool.”