By BRANDON VEALE
For The Daily News
HOUGHTON - The Houghton-Portage Township Schools Board of Education gave the "Play ball!" to what will be the Upper Peninsula's 15th high school baseball program.
The self-funded program will begin play this spring. It is Houghton's eighth varsity boys' sport, matching the total for girls.
Jim Cortright, who along with John Bostwick and Rob Scholie submitted the proposal to the district, said the program is an outgrowth of the success experienced within the Portage Lake Little League, of which Houghton-Portage Township is the largest feeder school district.
"It's hard for us, being in Little League, you get maybe two practices a week for an hour and a half. There's a lot you want to do with the kids and you don't have the time. It's going to give kids more opportunities to get better, that's the big reason behind it," he said.
Cortright said the model for getting baseball off the ground in Houghton has been set by the school's softball program, which has gained significant traction since its establishment in the spring of 2008.
According to the report submitted to the district, 23 boys from grades 9-11 indicated interest in prep baseball, more than enough to establish a varsity program, which typically has a roster size in the mid- to high teens.
"They've certainly done their homework and the parents put in the time," H-PT superintendent Doreen Klingbeil said during the meeting.
The report estimates start-up costs of roughly $4,000 for equipment and uniforms, in addition to annual expenses of $2,600. If it is allowed by school policy, players would transport themselves to and from road games and coaching is expected to be provided by to-be-selected volunteers, at least in the early years of the program. Administrative tasks such as scheduling would be handled by the athletic department.
"Obviously there's going to be a lot of fund-raising and we are going to ask players to contribute," Cortright said.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association calendar allows for practice to begin March 11, with games as early as March 20 in advance of district tournament play the last week of May and the state finals in Battle Creek June 14.
The U.P. winter means early season practices will be indoors and game scheduling could be complicated, but that's a burden those making the proposal are willing to bear.
"It's not going to stop us from going forward. We live where we live because we love where we live," Cortright said.
Escanaba became the first U.P. school to establish baseball within the MHSAA's spring season in 2002. Several U.P. programs have had success in the postseason, with the Eskymos finishing as Division 2 state runner-up in 2006. The closest schools geographically with programs are Negaunee, Marquette and Ironwood, all about 100 miles away.
Another complicating factor is the lack of a baseball field with 90-foot basepaths anywhere within the H-PTS boundaries.