Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Middle school eyes baseball program

School board wants more information before committing funds

Express Staff Writer

Wood River Middle School offers football, basketball, track and field and several other sports to its students, but no baseball or softball.

Principal Fritz Peters and a group of coaches would like to change that, and they brought a proposal to the Blaine County School District board of trustees at its Sept. 13 meeting.

The group estimated startup costs—for uniforms, equipment, coaching stipends, officials and field preparation—at about $20,000. The school board seemed favorable to the proposal, but asked for a more precise budget and will consider approval of the measure at its next regular board meeting on Oct. 18.

Opportunities for baseball and softball are available now for middle school students through the Blaine County Recreation District and Little League organizations, but Peters and Wood River High School physical education teacher Lars Hovey explained to the board that many of the players in those activities don't move on to high school teams.

"We've seen that we're losing a lot of kids in youth baseball and softball and that hurts the high school program, so we're looking at building a feeder program for the high school," Peters said.

"Eighty-five percent of the kids who play Little League, they don't play high school," said Hovey, who founded the high school baseball program in 1992 and was a coach for 14 years.

He further noted that some kids who are serious about baseball move away from the Wood River Valley because playing opportunities aren't readily available here.

Peters explained that field preparation costs would be minimal because the middle school already has two backstops that have gone unused for 15 years.

Hovey said the program would involve about 60 middle school boys and girls. He anticipates that there would be enough interest to form three baseball and two softball teams.

Since no other middle schools in the Magic Valley Athletic Conference have baseball and softball programs, Hovey said, the Wood River Valley teams would initially play in the Babe Ruth Northside Baseball/Softball program in Jerome.

Peters noted that there is a "dearth of sports in the spring" for middle school students and that many of them sign up for track and field because it's the only spring sport offered.

"They're really just going out for track to have something to do in our community," Peters said. "I think a lot of kids just want to do something in the spring."

Hovey and Peters presented the board with a survey of parents of athletes at the middle school showing that 66 out of 67 would be interested in having their children in a school baseball or softball program.

Terry Smith:

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