Sanctioned high school softball in Wyoming is now all but an inevitability.
School districts have already approved the addition of high school softball in Cody, Rock Springs, Gillette, Thunder Basin and Green River. There’s also been considerable support in Cheyenne, Lander and Riverton without an official vote being cast. Albany County School District No. 1 has been the only district so far that has denied softball after its vote failed by a 4-4 split in February. And in less than three weeks Natrona County School District No. 1 will likely add its support for softball, providing two more high schools for the first softball season in the spring of 2021.
A Natrona County school board committee voiced its support for softball after returns from a survey given to girls from grades 6-11 inside the school district returned overwhelming results. Out of the 1,472 students included in the survey’s results, 713 said they would participate in fast-pitch softball. So, in all likelihood, the committee’s estimated cost of $96,359 per school won’t be enough for the district’s vote to mirror the one in Laramie. That cost not only includes facilities and equipment but also transportation, medical expenses, officials, coaches, meals and lodging.
Wyoming High School Activities Association bylaws state that eight separate programs are required for sanctioning a sport. Even if no other school district approves the issue between now and the Natrona County school board’s next meeting on April 8, Kelly Walsh and Natrona County would bring the approved school total to seven.
The WHSAA Board of Directors addressed the thought of softball at their fall meeting before having a longer, more serious discussion at their winter meeting. At that February meeting they discussed the possibility of a pilot season, giving teams a chance to polish their practices through an unsanctioned season. That, ultimately, was shot down, leaving the board waiting for eight teams so they could adopt a motion for high school fast-pitch softball possibly as soon as their April meeting. WHSAA commissioner Ron Laird said during the board’s February meeting that he hoped a vote would be held well ahead of the 2020-2021 reclassification cycle when softball would be adopted so that they can certify officials and coaches, as well as offer mechanics camps.
The softball season would be in the spring, like neighboring Montana and Utah, and not in the fall, like Idaho, Colorado and Nebraska. That could bring its own headaches as adverse weather during the spring season in Wyoming, as the recent “bomb cyclone” proved, is an inevitability. WHSAA board members discussed extending the softball season into the summer by two weeks in order to get an ample amount of games in but the club softball coaches they spoke with would have then rescinded their support for adopting high school softball because that season would then overlap with the club softball season. So, much like with the two other spring sports of soccer and track, softball would adhere to a two-month season and be at the mercy of the elements.
Wyoming’s high school softball season would adopt the standard rules for high school softball as laid out in the National Federation of High Schools handbook.
Should the necessary eight schools adopt softball, practically a foregone conclusion at this point, and the WHSAA introduce and approve a motion to sanction softball, also highly likely, that would leave South Dakota as the only state without sanctioned high school fast-pitch softball — no surprise, as it’s the country’s fifth-most popular girls sport. The NFHS’s annual participation survey showed that 367,861 girls competed in fast-pitch softball in the 2017-18 school year. Only track and field, volleyball, basketball and soccer were more popular across the country.
Wyoming’s high school girls have to wait at least two more years before playing sanctioned games. But the ball now continues to roll toward that near certainty, which is hardly a blink compared to the decades that fields across Wyoming have sat without teams to play on them.