By Bill Foley
Jim LeProwse finally gets to be a pioneer.
The current Butte Miners head coach was picked Wednesday to be the first head coach of Butte High’s baseball program, which will begin play in the spring of 2023.
Butte High activities director Chuck Merrifield confirmed Wednesday night that LeProwse is the recommended candidate for the position. His hiring will go to the school board for a vote on Monday.
The school board has not rejected one of Merrifield’s recommendations in his nearly two decades serving as the AD.
“I’m excited,” LeProwse said on a rare night off coaching the Miners, a job LeProwse intends to keep as he takes over the Butte High program.
The Montana High School Association said Wednesday that 18 teams, including Butte High and Butte Central, will play next season in three divisions. Only two of the teams, Butte High and Belgrade, are from the Class AA.
Lots of logistics still have to be worked out before Montana begins its first high school season next spring. That, however, is not a problem for LeProwse, who has previously lobbied Montana Western and Montana Tech to start softball programs.
“I’m excited for that challenge myself,” LeProwse said. “I’ve always had that mindset that if I can be the pioneer of something like this, I can kind of put it in the right direction.”
LeProwse, who teaches welding at Highlands College, moved back to Butte last summer after more than a decade running the softball program at Dawson Community College in Glendive. In 10 seasons — his team did not get to play in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic — LeProwse was named Coach of the Year 15 times. He won the award in the conference eight times and the region seven times.
His first season leading the Butte Miners has been a huge success. The Miners, who did not lose a game in June, are 29-8 overall and 14-0 in the South A. Butte will look to wrap up the conference title this weekend before hosting the South A District tournament at 3 Legends Stadium this month.
In addition to having a deep and talented roster, LeProwse’s Miners have been playing a fun brand of baseball. Through 37 games, the Miners have swiped 133 bases. Their stolen base success rate sits at 93 percent.
“I did that in softball,” LeProwse said. “It was just go, go, go.”
The coach said he is having as much fun coaching the team as people are having watching it.
“God, I’ve enjoyed coaching these guys this summer in Legion,” he said. “It’s been one of the most rewarding summers I’ve had. The kids are just great. They fight and they battle. They don’t want to lose. When you have kids like that it brings so much joy into coaching.”
The plan is to bring along Miners assistant Luke Stajcar with him to Butte High.
“Absolutely,” LeProwse said. “He’s the best assistant for baseball that a guy could have. He’s awesome.”
While the Butte High job will be LeProwse’s first chance to start a program from scratch, he knows what it takes to build a winner. He took over a struggling softball program at Dawson and built it into a perennial contender on the national scene.
He also took a program that had to share a batting cage with the baseball team and got it its own indoor facility — with turf.
Before heading to Glendive, LeProwse coached several seasons with the Butte Muckers, and he coached with the Legion program in Glendive in the summer — one year as head coach and eight seasons as an assistant.
He said he was offered the job soon after interviewing on Wednesday.
“I was a pretty much offered right on the spot,” he said. “I think I was the only one to put in.”
Coaching high school and Legion program will come with some strings attached. LeProwse said there will be certain restrictions, but he has been assured that it will be allowed.
LeProwse is sure, too, that the Bulldogs are going to be ready to compete for the state championship on Year 1.
“I’m really, really excited about it,” LeProwse said. “I think we’re going to be a contender right out the gate.”
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