Jeff LeProwse has been trying to retire as the head coach of the Butte Miners for a few years now.
He even advertised the job opening so anybody in the world could apply. Every year, though, the only suitable candidate to replace LeProwse has turned out to be LeProwse.
So, each year when April rolls around, LeProwse, who is the president of Butte’s Legion program, is again the man in charge of Butte’s Class A American Legion baseball team.
That is a job that not many people are willing to take, and for good reason. It takes up all of your free time.
Over the past 10 years, LeProwse has used up most or all of his vacation time to take the Miners around the state to play baseball.
Once again, LeProwse is trying to say that this past season was his last, and nobody believes him. Those who know the coach best say he is serious, yet they still give him a 50/50 chance of returning next season.
It is time for us to let LeProwse follow through on his word. It is time to let him retire after a 10-season run that might go down as the most important stretch in the history of Butte’s Legion program.
That statement is not hyperbole by any stretch of the imagination, either.
If it was not for LeProwse, and a few other dedicated souls, there is a very good chance that Legion baseball in the Mining City would have completely faded away.
LeProwse took over the program in 2012, and word quickly spread that the team would no longer be able to play in its home at Alumni Coliseum at Montana Tech. That is because the Orediggers were going to install their artificial turf, a project that has been a huge benefit to Tech and the community.
It turns out the turf project did not take off until 2013, and the Miners were allowed to play in their long-time stadium in 2012. The word that they would not, however, drove some players away before the season started.
As a result, the Miners played that season in the Class AA with just 11 players, and that was an impossible task. While the Miners had some good talent on that small roster, it was not nearly enough to compete.
The 2012 Miners went winless in Eastern AA conference games.
That the Miners opened the season at all the next season was a bit of an upset. Despite rumors that there would be no team, LeProwse got 29 players out for the program. That was enough to bring the younger Mucker team back from the dead.
The Miners, though, were a team without a league and without a home.
The Miners played their home games on Field 4 at Copper Mountain Park. While it is a decent field for Senior Little League, it was by far the worst American Legion facility in the state.
LeProwse also knew the program was in no condition to compete with the Class AA teams. Butte also could not play in the Class A because a few of shortsighted members of the state’s American Legion Baseball Committee would not let them.
As it turned out, Butte had 16 too many students in grades 10 through 12 to drop down to Class A. An exception, which seemed like a no-brainer for anyone who cared about the overall state of the game of baseball, could have been made, but it was not.
So, the Miners had to play a non-conference schedule, scrounging around for games with any team that would play them. They were not eligible to play in any district or state tournaments.
Instead of turning bitter about the situation, LeProwse got creative and turned it into a positive. In July of 2013, he took the Miners to the Western Region Big League Baseball Tournament in Bremerton, Washington. The Miners played as “Team Montana.”
All these years later, those players would probably tell you the trip to Seattle beat the heck out of a trip to state. There’s no Space Needle in Havre.
LeProwse and the Miners played four seasons on Field No. 4.
On May 26, 2017, the Miners played their first game on Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium. Now, the Butte boys have one of the best Legion stadiums in the state, and they can thank LeProwse for that.
While the “three legends” are Jim Hanley, Jack Whelan and Jack Cavanagh, nobody had more to do with the new stadium than LeProwse.
Even the parents who do like the coach cannot dispute that.
The baseball has also been pretty good during LeProwse’s tenure. The coach has helped send more than a handful of kids on to play college baseball.
Now that Butte’s student population allows the Miners to play in Class A, the team put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in recent memory.
This season, the Miners fell one game short of qualifying for the Class A State tournament. In the deciding game, The Miners lost to Gallatin Valley, which suddenly had a player from San Diego on the playoff roster, the Miners were playing shorthanded.
They lost three of their best players — Zach Tierney, Kenley Leary and Rylan Richards — to injury. Tierney missed the entire season with a shoulder injury suffered in wrestling, and Leary missed most of the season from an overuse hip injury that came from playing four sports.
Richards broke a toe late in the season.
Richards will play college ball at Dickinson State, and Tierney and Leary will certainly have college baseball options if they choose to take that route. It might not be fair to say the Miners would have gone to state if they had all three players, but it sure would have been nice to find out.
LeProwse, though, never made an excuse. He just led the Miners out game after game and worked hard to make sure the team played to its potential.
Finding a replacement for LeProwse will not be easy. The job is time consuming and it pays next to nothing.
It is a job that is ideal for a teacher who gets the summer months off, but it is not apt for recruiting people from out of town because there is not a real job attached to it.
The dream is to steal Johnny Graham from Belgrade because he might be the best coach in the state. He also loves the Mining City and is married to a Butte girl.
But how can you ask a guy and his wife to leave their jobs just so he can coach Legion baseball? You cannot.
Someone has to step up. The program is in great shape, and it is about to get a huge influx of talent. Butte recently won the Junior Little League state championship, and they made it look easy.
In a few years, Miners just might be the favorite to win their first state title since Jim Kello and the Miners won it all in 1953.
Right now, there is probably a 50 percent chance that LeProwse will be the head Legion coach when those boys play for the Miners. However, it sure would be nice if he did not have to.
The coach has clearly put in his time, and then some.
— Bill Foley, who lives in a general state of hyperbole, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles741 comment