Combining Little Leagues in Butte is long overdue

Combining Little Leagues in Butte is long overdue

One of my favorite lines was to tell people that I live on the Upper Westside.

It was not a neighborhood pride thing because I grew up in Corktown, or “Southern Centerville,” as my grandpa used to call it.

The Upper Westside just seemed like an ironically snooty way to describe the location of my home, which an appraiser once unceremoniously described to me as “a small house with no garage.”

A few years back, I repeated my line to one of my cousins who grew up in the 1970s about a block away from where I live now, and he was highly offended.

“You do not live in the Upper Westside,” he said adamantly. “You live on the North End.”

My cousin and his friend did not like the kids on the Upper Westside, which is a little lower from where I live. They were afraid of the kids on Boardman Street, scoffed at those losers from the Lower West Side, and I am sure they knew better than to venture anywhere near Centerville.

When I grew up in the 1980s, neighborhood pride was still kind of a thing in Butte. Telling me I lived in Walkerville constituted as fighting words. The same was true if you told my Walkerville friends they lived in Centerville.

One thing all the kids on the Hill could agree on, though, was that we were all tougher than those wimps from the Flats.

Our Little League Baseball leagues used to have some neighborhood pride, too.

When it came time for the City Tournament, players from the Northwest, Longfellow and Mile High tried hard to represent their leagues.

Players all knew their league was better than the others, and they only time they could show that was during the City Tournament or during the All-Stars tournament.

Those days of neighborhood pride are long gone in the Mining City, mainly because some of those neighborhoods no longer exist.

The fatal blow was probably when West Junior High became an elementary school in the late 1980s. That sent all the public middle school students to the same building, where the rivalries ended for good.

No longer will you hear anyone debating Finn Town vs. the McGloin Heights or Meaderville vs. the Dublin Gulch.

Butte kids these days are not from neighborhoods. They are from Butte.

Our mining camp has changed since they days of the McQueen, Chinatown and the Cabbage Patch. Butte has less population, we have better transportation, and our kids all play Fortnite with each other.

So, it only make sense if they played baseball with each other, too.

The Longfellow Little League went away years ago. It was taken over by the Northwest Little League. That leaves our Butte kids with two options to play.

There are supposedly boundaries for the leagues, though parents have violated those in recent years, mostly to sign their kids up for the Mile High Little League.

That has caused headaches and hard feelings among the hard-working men and women who dedicate their time to developing baseball and softball players in town.

Next year, playing out of league will not be permitted. Of course, they said that last year, too. And the year before that. And probably the year before that.

We should just combine the leagues because it makes sense for so many reasons.

First, just think of the headache it would save our local Little League volunteers. They would no longer have to worry about Northwest players signing up for Mile High. Or vice versa.

That happens every year, too. It causes animosity between the league officials and the parents looking to put their son or daughter in the best position possible.

If everybody who lives in Silver Bow County played in the same league, that problem would go away.

A merger could also lead to better, more competitive baseball in Butte. If all the Butte teams were drawing from the same pool of players, you would see better competition. That would lead to better play and better players in the long run.

Remember, our first goal in Little League is to make sure kids have fun. Our second goal is to develop baseball players, and there is no better indicator of doing that right than turning out successful players to someday join the American Legion program.

Another benefit of having one league would be less rainouts. By the end of last week, some Mile High teams had only played four games this season.

The constant rainouts wreaked havoc on the schedule for Mile High, meaning the league will not compete in the season-ending tournament, which used to be called the “City Tournament.”

While Northwest is playing a tournament with teams in Dillon, Deer Lodge, Anaconda and Philipsburg, Mile High is instead trying to make up a bunch of games before playing a tournament among only Mile High teams.

While it rained just as much on the Hill this spring, Northwest did not have close to as many rainouts because the fields get rid of water better than the Mile High fields at Father Sheehan Park.

If you dig a 2-foot hole at Father Sheehan, you would probably hit the water table. The park has standing water in August.

So, while players from Mile High went home to play Fortnite instead of baseball, a couple of fields uptown sat empty and playable.

Mile High would have had a lot better season if the league had the Missoula Avenue fields for back up. Those same fields — and some help for the good folks at Northwest — allowed Mile High to complete the 9-10 All-Star tournament after one good storm washed out Father Sheehan last July.

Some people do not want to give up on heritage and tradition, and, really, that is admirable to a point. The name Northwest is important to some, and it should be.

Players in the Longfellow Little League were proud of their heritage and name, too. The Longfellow alumni still are proud, even though the league went away years ago.

Just like the former residence of the McQueen, the Longfellow players still have their memories. And they still play games on their fields.

The past two presidents at Mile High have pushed for the leagues to be combined. They even suggested using the name “Northwest” for the new league if that is what it would take.

They realized it is not about the adults. It is about the kids. And it is about baseball.

Yet, those presidents fought a losing battle. Enough people are against merging the two Butte leagues, and they are not about to give up their fight.

We will probably see peace between Hill kids and those wimps from the Flats before we see one harmonious Little League in the Mining City.

— Bill Foley, who did his part in the peace process by marrying a wimp from the Flats, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74

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4 Comments

  • Lance Bailey
    June 26, 2018, 7:56 pm

    Thank you!!

    REPLY
  • Zach Cunningham
    June 26, 2018, 10:11 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Bill. We just don’t have the numbers like we did 25 years ago. Great article—I played at Longfellow for years. I was also a Margaret Leary Fireball—now the Mustangs. Sometimes change is good.

    REPLY
  • Greg McGillen
    June 27, 2018, 3:03 am

    Bill,
    I am really surprised that your article was not about the effort to combine the softball programs at Mile High and Northwest into a sperate league. We have a working plan to try to make softball a viable program in Butte that I think Jim Scown would be proud of as a founding Little League Softball pioneer in the entire United States.
    When I took over as President of Northwest Little League my first decision was one of the most stressful that I have been faced with in my tenure. A member of the Mile High board informed us that we would give them our softball girls or we would not be able to play inter-league with them. My decision, with my board of trustee’s approval, was to not give in to threats and demands and work on building our program. This year I wrote up and submitted to the President of Mile High a plan to join our two softball programs together and create in the process a better Little League experience for our girls.
    This year the softball divisions from 7-12 played in a Little League approved combined program. The softball girls from Mile High and Northwest not only played an entire season of inter-league with the Dillon, Anaconda, and Deer Lodge leagues, they are right now playing the final games of the regional tournaments.
    Softball, in my opinion, needs to be in the hands of the adults in our community that are passionate about softball. Our softball numbers are at a level right now that would not be sustainable without the outlying community’s programs participation. Mile High and Northwest combined has only three 11-12 year-old softball teams this season. We were unable to form an All-Star team for this division.
    The goal is by next year at the start of registration to have a separate softball charter and league created. Missoula did this a few years back and I spent time talking to some of the people in their program to get tips and suggestions. We have adults that have committed to making this a reality.
    This first attempt to create your grand vision is a test to whether it can be done for softball first and then baseball after that. If this fails, your conclusion is probably pretty accurate. Softball is ripe and ready for this structural change. Adults that love softball must step up and help Mile High and Northwest leadership make this a reality.
    Some of your other conclusions do indeed need to be examined at a deeper level.
    Mile High made the decision to not play inter league this year. The elephant in the room was exposed for what it is. Father Sheehan park in a good year loses a fair share of games because of rain and flooding. In a bad year, like 2018, their season was a disaster for practice and games.
    Having a combined league right now would not have raised the participation or quality of play for Northwest players with this field water problem on the fields at Mile High. In fact, 500 more kids practicing and holding games on the Northwest fields would have cut practice time by about 70 percent for the Northwest teams. Your assumption is that our fields are lying in fallow when nothing could be further from the truth and you have that information at your fingertips. Login to your manager account and check the field calendar for any weekday of our season. Our fields have been booked full. Longfellow, Scown, Anselmo, and Missoula Fields had practices or games running continuously every afternoon and evening during the week. How would adding the teams from Mile High improved the Little League experience for the Northwest kids in relation to time on the fields?
    Why was Scown Field able to hold the vast majority of their scheduled games? Yes, drainage is one factor but so is the 50 buckets of dirt I personally hauled into the field five at a time on a consistent basis to fill low spots so water couldn’t pool. Maybe the huge tarps we purchased to cover the infield had something to do with it. I stopped on the way to work in the morning and put them out if it was raining or forecast to rain. I went up at lunch break six or seven times and covered Scown so your team and others could play that afternoon or evening. Other Major coaches also did this. Didn’t you?
    Mile High was given an option by the county to fix their fields so they would drain. It is an expensive option but so are batting and pitching cages.
    To clarify, any baseball or softball Mile High team that ever asked to use our fields for softball or baseball practice or games was immediately given access to our system to schedule. No baseball team this year asked. All softball managers that asked were given full access. Facility keys were given to all softball coaches.
    I don’t know where the “even call it Northwest” quote came from but I can assure you it is not true or even important. Myself, the officials, and the board of trustees at Northwest Little League are concerned about the experience of Little League in our program. Every issue, suggestion, or recommendation I propose to our board is ALWAYS questioned as to how it will impact OUR kids. That is our job. It is not about neighborhood boundaries or names.
    Investigative journalism requires facts and numbers to make claims. Emotional hooks work but don’t answer the questions that need to be answered. Can Butte have one Baseball League? Most definitely.
    First, prove that can it can work in a program that really need some structural change…. Softball.
    Second, fix the water issues at Father Sheehan so Northwest Fields can contribute to quality baseball for the entire city and not as a crutch for a problem that needs to be solved separately and beforehand.
    Third, demonstrate that the merger of the two programs would benefit the kids from Northwest Little League. Making something bigger doesn’t solve problems. It magnifies existing problems.
    Here is a question. What would moving all the Little League Softball in Butte to their own complex at the Longfellow Fields do to alleviate the traffic and crowding at Father Sheehan? Sounds like the best solution I have heard so far.
    I get it Bill. It is about the kids. For me it is about the kids that play baseball AND softball Little League at Northwest. That is my role as President. Anything less and I would not be doing my job.
    Greg
    P.S. Great win tonight in Anaconda. I enjoyed watching your team play. They looked like they were having fun AND have improved their level of play.

    REPLY
  • Becky Gulbro
    June 27, 2018, 6:33 am

    Great article! Couldn’t agree more!

    REPLY
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