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FOTB: Baseball is back: Ray adding activities with rising enrollment

FNS Photo by Amy Dalrymple Coaches Ben Schafer, left, and Jason Cancade talk to the new high school baseball team in Ray between games on Thursday.

RAY — The high school here has a baseball team for the first time since the 1970s, supported by a growing school enrollment and a “baseball fanatic” superintendent.

Ray Public School, in the heart of the Oil Patch, is competing in Class B Region 7 this spring after the community raised money to purchase equipment for the new team.

It’s the first time Ray has had a high school baseball team except for one year in the 1970s, said Ben Schafer, the superintendent and one of the team’s coaches.

“They’re pretty excited about having a baseball team again,” said Schafer, in his second year with the district. “I think everywhere should have a baseball team.”

The K-12 district enrolls about 270 students and is expected to increase as new housing developments in the booming area are constructed. The Census Bureau estimated Ray’s population to be 609 in 2012.

Fifteen students are on the roster this spring and younger kids have expressed an interest in the sport, Schafer said.

“Hopefully we can sustain it,” he said.

Tanner Garman, a junior who plays centerfield for the Jays, said he was excited to join the new team.

“Everyone should get the opportunity to play,” Garman said.

Haley Hodenfield, a senior, is one of three female players on the team. The school doesn’t have enough interest in girls’ softball, so Hodenfield and the other girls asked to be on the boys’ team.

“I’ve always dreamed about playing baseball,” said Hodenfield, a lifelong resident of Ray.

Community interest in the team’s games has been strong.

“Our town has always liked baseball,” Hodenfield said.

The Ray program is one of three new Class B baseball teams this year, said Matt Fetsch, an assistant director for the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

High schools in Stanley, also in oil country, and Oakes, in the southeastern part of the state, also formed new teams this year, Fetsch said. It’s been more common for North Dakota to see decreasing numbers of teams due to declining numbers or teams combining with neighboring schools, he said.

“That definitely goes against the norm compared to other activities,” Fetsch said.

Ray Public School also recently added cheerleading, Schafer said. The district doesn’t have any immediate plans to add more activities, but that could change with interest and community support, he said.

“You just never know with the growth what can happen,” Schafer said.