What the spring sport of softball will look like in 2021 for high schools in Wyoming is starting to come together.

The schools that will field teams for the new sport next spring gathered last month in Casper to iron out rules that are being added to the Wyoming High School Activities Association (WHSAA) handbook, the conference structure, the schedule, and the state tournament format. Only one classification is recognized and it will be called 4A.

Laramie High School Athletic Director Ron Wagner said all the talk has been positive.

“We had already known we were going to have enough (schools) to start this process, so we knew we had to get to the scheduling aspects. We had a meeting back in September about softball, and that was really to iron out some of the things like the rules. We were looking at rules in surrounding states that already have softball. So when we came together in January, we already had our rules set and could sit down and just focus on how do we want to divide up the 13 teams that have joined. What do we want that to look like, and who plays who, when.”

As for alignment, since most of the high school sports in the state are divided east-west, the decision was made to also go east-west in softball. This puts Campbell County, Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne East, Cheyenne South, Laramie, Thunder Basin, and Wheatland in the East Conference. The West Conference will be comprised of Cody, Green River, Kelly Walsh, Natrona County, Rock Springs, and Worland.

Wagner said when you talk about the decision for conference alignment, it’s about travel. The people that are the outliers are Gillette, Cheyenne, Rock Springs-Green River, and Cody-Worland.

“Now we’re discussing, well, it is four hours here and it is four hours there, so it didn’t really make a difference one way or the other. Maybe, a half-an-hour here or there on good roads. The East-West was the final vote when we hashed it out.”

Wagner did add that they will reevaluate or reassess after each year depending on interest, so only 2021 is set for now. He went on to say some places are more serious than others about joining in the future, but there is interest.

Wyoming High School Softball will begin with its first practice on March 8, 2021. Teams are limited to a 26 game schedule over 11 dates, exclusive of the State Tournament. They will also be allowed to participate in one tournament. You cannot play more than three games in a day. The bulk of the schedule will consist of home-and-home conference games. The first game will be the “varsity” game, while the second can be more “JV-like.” The 2021 opening tournament will be played in Cheyenne. Games will be played primarily on Fridays and Saturdays. There are also two open weekends. Both options will offer some flexibility to make-up games that are canceled due to the weather either early in a week, like on a Tuesday, or one of the open weekends.

With the East having one more team than the West, it was decided that the West teams will play their travel partner one more time. As an example, Green River would play Rock Springs three times in conference play instead of just two times.

Only the top four teams from each conference will advance to the state tournament. The first two years of the state tournament will be held in Gillette. That was awarded by the WHSAA Board of Directors in a bid process and finalized at their November 2019 board meet. It will be the same weekend as State Soccer and State Track and Field. For 2021, that will be May 20-22.

Since it is a new sport just starting in the state, Wagner also said the travel and the budget is always the focus.

“With any sport in Wyoming, I think the No. 1 thing is are we going to have enough teams where travel is realistic? That was, I think, initial fears from a lot of people, and it’s well-founded. Are we going to be sending Cheyenne Schools or Laramie all the way up to Cody every other weekend? That’s a lot of miles on kids, and we know our kids are already putting on a lot of miles. Travel is something that everybody thinks about. The next thing is budgeting. I think everybody knows the budget right now in the state is not what it has been or could be, or what we hoped it would be, so when you’re talking about having to maybe make cuts or tighten the belts and then adding a sport, once we get going we’ll see what it looks like year-to-year, but to initially buy everything all at once that you need to start is something a school really has to consider.”

Wagner added one good part is when you need eight schools to start and have 13 that jump on board, that’s really positive.

“I think it just shows the level of interest there is in softball in Wyoming. From my time in Douglas running the softball program there to my dad being a softball umpire for 30 years, I’ve seen it around the state. It’s always been around. It’s always had a healthy, strong following, so I think this was a natural step for a lot of communities in this state.”

Now kids across the state will have an opportunity to compete for their high school in this sport.

Schools are now looking to hire coaches, who will then need to go through certification to coach at this level. High school softball has really begun in Wyoming.

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