BILLINGS- Billings Public Schools has decided to not implement high school baseball until at least 2025.
Since the MHSA decided to add baseball as soon as Spring 2023, School District 2 activities director Mark Wahl and a team of baseball supporters in Billings have worked to find out what the costs would be to fund the sport for the three Billings AA schools.
Wahl presented a plan that would estimate $33,000 needed in start-up costs and an estimated $125,000-$140,000 needed in yearly expenses to maintain baseball through the district's general fund.
On Monday night, the board voted 5-3 against adoption of the sport over concerns of funding three baseball programs in the district.
"If the athletic director will oversee baseball and it will be a district program, then it has to be funded in the same way as our other activities and that means the general fund responsibility has to be the districts," Wahl said. "I think there will probably be a push from the supporters of baseball to offset the general fund but I'm personally not in favor of that because then it basically becomes another club program."
Local youth baseball advocate D.J. Smith is frustrated that financial challenges are the roadblock to bringing high school baseball to town. He wonders if we can find some middle ground, some creative thinking to figure out what the community can do to fund the sport.
"The money is out there; the support is out there we are just kicking the can down the road another year from now it doesn't have to be that way," said D.J. Smith, local youth baseball supporter. "Compared to other baseball organizations that require funds, this is a fraction of what they already do, the money is there we just need to figure out how to get it, and how to get this going and have the conversations to try to have that meet in the middle so boys can finally play baseball and represent their schools."
Wahl said there are great people who have shown support for baseball and worked really hard. He appreciates all the work they've done to try to bring high school baseball to Billings but knows at some point the responsibility will fall back on the district.
"To accept that general fund responsibility. Those people working really hard right now will be gone in a few years and at some point, we have to accept that and there are all kinds of unintended consequences that come with delegating responsibility for funding, and I thought it was a good compromise that they accept the funding for the startup cost, and we accept the general funding responsibility," he said.
Wahl also noted just as there is overwhelming support from baseball enthusiasts, there are others who would choose to see that money go elsewhere. He also noted the mill levy that did not pass for the district last year.
Smith is frustrated but hopeful that they can get past the idea that the district has to pay for the annual costs of baseball through their general fund.
"So how can we get past this impasse, where the school district wants to be in charge of the funds and be responsible for them, but they don't have the funds necessary," Smith said. "Then, you have this vast majority of the Billings public and community that supports baseball and I feel very confidently funds could be raised to offset that expenditure so there's got to be some good and take here that hopefully smart good brains can sit down and say, "How can we make this happen?"
22 schools, including AA programs in Butte and Belgrade have chosen to implement baseball. Wahl admits it's more difficult for SD2 to fund baseball because they would have three programs in Senior, Skyview and West.
"It's three times as much to do this and we're in a different location, our travel is probably more expensive than Butte and Belgrade and the other issue is that's why the MHSA let communities decide on their own because we have different circumstances in terms of our funding. We asked for a levy last spring and didn't pass it so it's difficult for our board to say, 'Oh okay we didn't pass it, but we have money for baseball." I know that's what they're wrestling with is where will they get the money from, and the budget is kind of unknown and a struggle," said Wahl.
Wahl said at the board meeting on Monday night he firmly believes everybody there was in support of baseball, but they have a financial responsibility for the entire district. For now, the conversation is tabled until Spring 2025, but Wahl knows local baseball supporters will continue to work to bring high school baseball to the Magic City.
"I believe in the baseball community in Billings, I think it's pretty strong. I was a little surprised at their support for high school baseball just because it does have an impact on their programs, but everybody was willing to give up some things to help us start high school baseball... it's tough I do not want to get into a position where we have to cut other sports, cut from other sports to make baseball work so I would rather make our district make sure it's viable then put it in and struggle."
Smith hopes this conversation isn't postponed all the way until 2025, and they can figure out something sooner rather than later. He noted the collaboration between local legion programs, little league programs and even the Billings Mustangs to help make this work.
"I'd still like to think that there's logical people that realize we could make this happen sooner than three years... I don't think it will take three years to work through this. I don't think it will take 18 months I don't think it will take 12 months, but I think there's a lot of things here that can be worked through," Smith said.
Billings Central athletic director Mike Ryan said the school is continuing to gather information & are hopeful we will have a program in place by the Spring of 2024.
On Tuesday, the MHSA announced the inaugural state baseball tournament in 2023 will be played in Butte.