Rec district steps up for youth sports

by nathan oster

The Greybull Recreation District’s board of directors hired a new director and committed to assume a greater administrative role for youth baseball and other intramural sports programs during its meeting Monday night at the Herb Asp Community Center.

Topping the agenda was the hiring of a replacement for Chris Waite, who left the district at the end of April and is now working in Billings. His assistant, Heather Howe, was immediately appointed the “interim” director, and on Monday night, she officially got the permanent job.

Her hiring was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Clay Collingwood voting nay.  Collingwood was sitting in for Myles Foley, who is the town council’s parks and recreation commissioner. Foley was unavailable, but he had given Collingwood permission to cast votes on his behalf.

Howe’s promotion created a vacancy in the assistant director’s post.  The board agreed to begin advertising the position, setting the hours at not to exceed 29 and the starting pay at $12 per hour.

The board and its new director spent most of Monday’s meeting talking about youth sports.

A group including Ken Wright, who has taken the reigns of the youth baseball program this summer, as well as baseball moms Janelle Craft and Carrie Hunt (whose husband Jeff is also a baseball coach) approached the board with myriad concerns about the state and direction of all the district’s sports programs.

All three called up on the recreation district to take a greater organizational role in the sport.

“I heard that you’ve been looking at doing away with some intramural sports and making them ‘league’ sports like baseball and soccer are,” said Craft. “I’m hoping that isn’t the case and that the rec district will continue to support these intramural programs.

“(Former Director) Chris (Waite) did a great job introducing more of the arts to the community, but I’m concerned that intramural sports seem to be declining.  I’d like as much time put into sports as some of the arts program.  There’s a proper balance there — and I don’t think we’ve found it yet.  Looking at the summer schedule, I don’t see a lot of organized sports activities for our kids.”

Craft urged the rec board to offer training or guidelines for coaches to follow, not only in baseball but in all sports. “I know how hard parents can be on coaches,” she said. “Parents want coaches to produce winning tams, but if teamwork and leadership isn’t taught at the intramural level, coaches aren’t going to have a lot to work with when the kids get to the middle school and high school levels.”

Ken Wright, who grew up in Greybull, moved away in 1988 and then returned two years ago, said he’s noticed the decline in youth sports. Especially baseball, a sport he’s trying to keep going this spring.

“When I was growing up here, baseball was really important in this area,” he said. “Talk to people my age, and one thing they remember is the Greybull baseball program being very strong, and being something kids looked forward to doing each year.”

Wright said he knows of one family that chose not to settle in Greybull because its youth sports programs are lacking.

“It’s hard to recruit young families to the area if you don’t have some of the sports program. Existin rec programming is good, and is a good recruiting tool.  But it doesn’t cover all genres of opeople.

“With us no longer having a pool, when you think of the demographics in this community, if there’s no pool, no baseball program, there isn’t a lot of things for kids to do when school is not going.”

Wright appealed to the rec district for the formation of a board or subcommittee to oversee and guide the youth baseball program. He emphasized, however, that parents also need to step up and be part of the solution.

“Most of the people who are involved are 8 to 5 people who are going out at 6 or 7 at night and not getting home until 9,” Wright said. “It’s unrealistic to have a completely parent-run organization. That’s why I’d like to see a committee under the rec district.”

Wright said that while T-ball and coach pitch numbers are good, the upper levels are struggling to field teams.  There won’t be a Babe Ruth team in town this summer, as the core of last year’s state tournament team will either be joining a Senior Babe Ruth team in Worland or a Legion squad in Lovell. Wright said his Minors team roster currently stands at 12, while the Majors team coached by Scott McBride has a roster of 10.

Wright said Lovell has a thriving baseball program and will field multiple T-Ball, coach pitch, Majors and Minors teams this summer.

“We’ve had this conversation, and a lot of us agree with you,” said Barry Bryant, the Greybull superintendent and a member of the rec board.

Discussion then shifted to whether one committee might be able to oversee all the intramural programs, the distinction between “league” and “intramural” sports, spending on field maintenance and the deficiencies of the three fields in the Art Schutte Sports Complex. The playing surfaces on all three diamonds are a concern, according to Joe Forcella, a rec board member and baseball coach.

When the board resumed the discussion later in the meeting, the focus was on how the district might be able to help not only baseball but all intramural sports.  In the end, the board agreed to assume greater responsibility in the administration of the major intramural sports, including baseball.

Board members also agreed that a youth sports committee would be a positive step and that the bylaws that govern youth sports need to be reviewed and possibly rewritten, including the language that limits the activity fee to $3 for intramural sports.


Swimming lessons

There may be a glimmer of hope for parents who would like to get their children enrolled in swimming lessons this summer. With the pool now closed, Howe has been researching possible alternatives.

The outdoor pool at the Greybull KOA has emerged as a possible location for lessons. Howe said she’s visited with Cor Bijvank, who is “open to the idea.” His primary concern is liability. “He doesn’t want it to fall on him,” Howe said.

Howe and Bijvank plan to continue their discussions.

Howe said Bijvank indicated that he’d only make the pool available for lessons in the mornings.  Afternoons will be reserved for guests of the campground.  She added that lessons may not start until July because the water is typically still chilly in the mornings through the end of June.

Howe said she also checked with the Yellowstone Motel (which is “not interested”) and with the Basin pool, which informed her that it could only accept seven swimmers in June and 10 in July.

On top of it all, Howe said the current pool supervisor, Amy Kania, has resigned. But Howe said she knows of someone who might be able to oversee a two-week swimming lesson program.

If the rec board and the KOA can reach an agreement, the payment of lifeguards won’t be an issue, as there is still funding available from the annual contributions of both the town and the school district.

In other business

• Howe said the sale of pool equipment netted $389 in donations.

• In the remodeling report, the board agreed to seek additional quotes for new kitchen floording.  Howe had received one, from King’s Carpet One in Worland.  Board members agreed that it came in higher than expected.  The plan is to install vinyl flooring, rather than tile.