A vote by Albany County School District No. 1’s school board has set the stage for Wyoming to start offering high school softball in 2021.
Coming into this week, the state still needed one more high school commit to softball to trigger the eight-team minimum for the Wyoming High School Activities Association to start sanctioning the sport.
On Wednesday, the school board voted unanimously to make Laramie High School that eighth school.
The vote followed a half hour of public testimony, as well as a half-year campaign by Laramie Girls Softball to convince the school board to approve the sport. Many of Laramie’s young softball players, their parents, and Laramie Girls Softball organizers attended the Wednesday’s meeting.
By the time the 7 p.m. meeting started, well more than 100 people filled the board’s meeting room, designed to seat about 50 attendees.
Another group of people filled a second room in the district’s basement, where board meeting was being live-streamed.
Board member Nate Martin praised the girls for their perseverance after the February vote.
“A few months ago, you came to us and asked us to sanction girls softball and the board told you ’no,’” Martin said. “You didn’t give up. You dug in and did the work necessary. … I want you to not take this experience and leave it behind, but I want you to build on it. Coming to public meetings, and putting pressure on public officials in a civil manner is how you’re going to shape the decisions that are going to shape the community and build the world that you want to live in.”
The event was largely a jubilant affair, with cheering occasionally so loud some needed to plug their ears.
When the school board initially voted on whether to offer softball in February, the proposal died on a 4-4 vote.
At the time, half the school board wanted to work through their 2020 fiscal year budget before deciding whether they could afford to add another sport.
Since then, organizers of Laramie Girls Softball and other community members have attended most school board meetings, advocating repeatedly for the sport during the public comment period.
Softball organizers elsewhere in Wyoming have also sent numerous emails to school board members, emails that were highly critical of the school board’s hesitance.
Often those emails would argue that ACSD No. 1 is in violation of Title IX, a federal legal provision that requires public schools to offer equal athletic opportunities for boys and girls.
Some suggested a lawsuit should be brought against the district.
Superintendent Jubal Yennie has been adamant that the district “does not have a Title IX problem.”
February’s split vote came after Michele Mitchum had resigned from the board that same day.
Jamin Johnson, who was appointed to replace Mitchum, said he appreciated the time the board took to reconsider the vote over the past few months.
“I asked for some time to gain some perspective and a fiscal picture to make an informed decision,” he said. “I appreciate the time that I was allowed to make a decision. I also appreciate learning quickly how important it is to have a thorough and deliberative process to decide these things.”
Before Wednesday’s vote, some members of the board who had voted “no” in February took the opportunity to push back on some of the criticism they had received after the February vote.
“I thought I made this very clear from the start, that for me, this was about slowing down and answering all of the questions concerning sanctioning softball and making sure we had the budget to take care of the many needs in our district,” board member Beth Bear said. “It was not about women’s equality, or Title IX, or about softball specifically. It was about being financially responsible with our resources. Unfortunately, some people made it about all these things and made it personal at times. … I hope that moving forward, when there are disagreements or differences of opinion on a topic, we can look to ways to work together instead of pointing fingers and name-calling.”
Bear did praise Laramie Girls Softball for working through many of the logistical challenges that come with sanctioning softball.
She praised Laramie Girls Softball members Marty McKinney and Nick Hauser in particular for “their hard work and the way they conducted themselves throughout this process.”
Board member Karen Bienz was particularly pointed in her “disappointment at how some of the adult members of the softball community behaved following the board’s decision in February.”
“Some used tactics of personal attacks through emails and other venues,” she said.
While not naming any Laramie Girls Softball organizers by name, she “condemned” the behavior of some adults as “bordering on outright harassment.”
“These adults did not provide our young people with a model of good sportsmanship,” she said. “Their behaviors are not the reason we are here tonight.”
Last week, board member Jason Tangeman said that, considering budget concerns were the main reason for the delay in approving softball, advocates had misdirected much of their frustration.
“I thought that this is the wrong approach,” he said. “The answer was in lobbying elected officials in this community to find funding streams to fill the gaps.”
He urged softball supporters to “get informed and lobby your legislators.”
”Some of our legislators (in Albany County) are about cut, cut, cut, and not looking for solutions,” he said. “We have to solve that in the long-run. Go to committee meetings and voice your support for a reasonable funding stream.”
Based on estimates compiled by Laramie Girls Softball, an LHS softball season is expected to cost $36,332 for the first year, with costs of $27,544 in each subsequent years.
Those costs assume a traveling team of 16 girls.
If a junior varsity team was added, additional first year costs are estimated to be $18,000. Costs in subsequent years are expected to be another $8,000 if a JV team were created.
Laramie Girls Softball organizers have said they’re willing to make a pledge for start-up costs. The group has also indicated an interest in developing fundraisers through a booster club.