The Natrona County school board officially threw its support behind a statewide effort to bring softball to Wyoming high schools Monday night, voting unanimously to add Kelly Walsh and Natrona County High to a growing list of schools that would like to offer the sport.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for pushing for this for these girls,” Claire Smith, who coaches the Casper Rebels, told the board before the vote.
The vote is the culmination of months of lobbying by Casper’s softball community, who have packed the usually sparsely attended school board meetings since January and made their case to the board. Natrona County School District officials told the crowd at that first meeting that staff was already exploring the option, which was under consideration at other districts across the state.
The Casper softball community packed the school board’s meeting again Monday night. Girls in Casper Voltage and Rebels jerseys filled the rows of chairs, while parents wearing sweatshirts with a lightning bolt emblazoned across it stood against the wall. Parents held out their phones to take pictures and record the moment.
Natrona County’s support is not passive, either: The board voted to support softball be sanctioned as soon as possible, rather than the 2021 timeline that was initially floated. In a meeting Monday afternoon before the vote, the board discussed asking the Wyoming High School Activities Association to begin the sport before 2021, which the governing body had previously targeted as a start date for softball. Trustee Dave Applegate proposed the earlier start and noted that the young women who have worked to get the sport sanctioned here may graduate before the first pitch is thrown in two years.
The announcement that the board would support an effort to bring softball to Wyoming before 2021 drew applause and cheers during the main meeting Monday night.
In the afternoon, district officials said they would look into making softball an intramural or exhibition sport next spring and then have it be fully sanctioned the year after, rather than waiting until 2021 to get the sport off the ground. The proposed exhibition season would be a less pressured introduction to the sport and schools, while also giving students who want to play now the opportunity to do so.
“They’ve worked hard, they’ve been strong advocates,” Applegate said of the girls who had publicly pushed for the sport’s adoption.
Terry Hooker, the district’s activity director, noted that there’s still discussion ongoing about when fields will be available and even what season will be best for the sport. Spring appears the preferred option, but Hooker said the fields will be in better shape in the fall.
A broader, statewide effort to bring softball to Wyoming high schools has been ongoing for some time. School districts in Cody, Gillette, Rock Springs and Green River have all said they will support the sanctioning softball. Cheyenne, Lander, Laramie, Powell, Riverton and Worland’s districts are all considering it, as well.
The number of districts that support softball will likely grow now that Natrona County has voted in favor of it. Walt Wilcox, the associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction here, told the board at Monday afternoon’s committee meeting that several of the districts who haven’t yet voted were waiting to see what Natrona County decided.
Support in Casper schools seems strong. A survey conducted earlier this year of 1,446 middle and high school girls revealed nearly 50 percent said they would participate. Of those that weren’t participating in a spring sport, more than half said they would play softball.
School board officials said Monday that the sport would cost about $100,000 per high school here.
After the vote, the crowd cheered and clapped. Rita Walsh, the chairwoman of the board, told the audience they could stick around if they wanted to for the remainder of the meeting or go home to do homework. Much of the room cleared out, but not before several of the girls called out thank-yous to the board.