Albany County School District No. 1 board members plan to revisit the possibility of offering softball at Laramie High School after they complete their budget for the 2019-2020 school year.
The board declined a request from Laramie Girls Softball in February in a dramatic 4-4 vote. The ninth school board member, Michele Mitchum, resigned the same day as that board meeting, and a tie vote was enough to kill the proposal.
Since then, organizers of Laramie Girls Softball have pushed the board to reverse that February decision as more districts across Wyoming are committing to the sport.
And the district has now appointed a new ninth board member, Jamin Johnson. He said at a Wednesday work session he’d like to avoid making a decision on softball until he gets a better feel for the district’s budget issues.
“I think it’s important, being brand new to this process, to be allowed a very short opportunity to get a complete fiscal picture,” he said.
Initial discussion of the 2020 budget was the primary focus of Wednesday’s board meeting.
Board members tentatively agreed on a reconsideration of the February vote. It would be brought back likely in August or September, once their new budget is finalized.
The state needs eight high schools to agree to offer softball in order for the Wyoming High School Activities Association to officially sanction the sport. Once eight high schools agree, the earliest the sport could begin is 2021.
Had ACSD No. 1 signed on in February, it would have made LHS the fourth school in the state — after Rock Springs, Cody and Green River — to commit to the sport.
Since then, Campbell County has committed two more high schools, and Natrona County is expected to commit two more next week, bringing the total number of committed high schools to 7.
Laramie County is still weighing whether to commit to softball as well.
Ron Laird, the commissioner of WHSAA, said in a February email that if eight high schools haven’t committed to softball by the end of summer, the state organization might consider a deadline for districts to commit to softball before ruling out a 2021 season.
“If we have not heard from or do not have any more commitments by our September board meeting, we would then look at setting a deadline,” Laird told Laramie Girls Softball board member Jason Pacheco. “We do not want to do anything that inhibits the opportunity for a school district to feel they have not had enough time to make a responsible decision for their district.”
When ACSD No. 1 opted not to sign on in February, board members voting against the proposal cited budget concerns.
While the commitment to join softball in 2021 wouldn’t affect the district’s budget for the 2020 fiscal year, board members still reluctant about softball said Wednesday they’ll wait until after the district’s budget is finished in July to reconsider their votes.
A finalized 2020 budget, they said, would help provide clarity about whether the district can afford to add another sport.
During the original February vote, board members Tammy Johnson, Mark Bittner, Lawrence Perea and Nate Martin voted for the proposal.
The “no” votes came from Janice Marshall, Karen Bienz, Jason Tangeman and Beth Bear.
Noting the statewide push to receiving WHSAA sanctioning, Martin said he’d like to revisit the vote earlier than late summer.
“We’re coming up with our priorities right now for spending, so if this is going to be one of our priorities, I don’t know why we would put it off until after the budget discussion,” he said. “It’s not like this is something that only affects us. There’s an entire statewide deal. I understand that our first obligation is to Albany County, but if this is something that wouldn’t cost us any money and it would be part of a larger picture, bringing the motion back doesn’t seem like it would pose as harm.”
Board member Jason Tangeman said some aspects of the 2020 budget are directly germane to his willingness to reconsider. For example, a memo from ACSD No. 1 business manager Ed Goetz is suggesting a $71,000 increase to the district’s athletic and activity stipend schedule. That memo follows the work of an extra-duty stipend committee, which has indicated Laramie’s coaches are underpaid.
Tangeman said he’d like to ensure that more money is budgeted for those stipends before adding another sport.
“If we’re going to revisit this next month, it’s a ‘no’ vote from me,” he said. “I’ve already committed that I’ll reconsider … after we finish the budget process. … If that $71,000 to increase the stipends is not approved, then there’s no way I can support softball. That’s a priority to me.”
Tangeman said he also thinks that reconsidering a vote during the next regular meeting after the original motion failed would also “be not a very good precedent to set.” Reconsideration, he said, should only happen once circumstances have changed — like board members having a clearer financial picture of the district.
The WHSAA sanctioned an equal number of sports for boys and girls until 2010, when support for gymnastics was cut amid dwindling participation statewide.
While board members wait to reconsider their February vote, Superintendent Jubal Yennie said the district should also begin consulting with the city of Laramie and Laramie Girls Softball on the logistics of practicing and hosting games.
When Laramie Girls Softball discussed high school softball with board members during a February work session, Laramie Girls Softball president Marty McKinney suggested that city officials can sometimes not be very accommodating with field access — an issue McKinney said arose when Laramie Girls Softball sought to host a state tournament in Laramie.
“It can sometimes be difficult working with them to achieve goals,” he said.
More than 100 people attended the February board meeting in which the softball proposal failed. Those who couldn’t fit into the meeting room listened from the lobby or gathered in a conference room in the basement where a live-stream was set up.
Girls dressed in their softball clothes and brought signs that read “I can only imagine playing high school softball in Laramie, Wyoming.”
After the board members’ budget concerns killed the proposal, Laramie Girls Softball pledged a $20,000 donation in March toward start-up costs at LHS, which the group estimates to be $26,770.
The group also promised to develop and implement a booster club for LHS softball, and continue to organize fundraisers to fund the program.
In the March 9 letter promising to help with funding, Laramie Girls Softball members also noted that $1,825 had already been raised through a GoFundMe campaign, with another $8,500 already pledged from Laramie local businesses.
Grand Avenue Dental, L & I Rentals, Juarez Hardwood Flooring, Gateway Fuel & Liquor, M&M Construction, Altitude Fitness, Spine & Injury Clinic of Laramie, and Mutual of Omaha have all pledged at least $1,000 each.
Laramie Girls Softball originally planned to pack the school board’s meeting room with supporters at the March meeting in an effort to get school board members to change their vote. However, that meeting was canceled as a result of the blizzard that closed Laramie schools for two days in mid-March.