SOUTH HEART - The boys of South Heart and Belfield will soon no longer just be limited to baseball in the summer months. Soon, they'll be the boys of spring.
Following approval from the North Dakota High School Activities Association earlier this month, the schools of the Heart River co-op will be fielding a high school baseball team for the first time in either town's history.
Because Babe Ruth Leagues only offer baseball up to age 15, those boys ran out of options if they wished to play in high school.
"The kids that come out of Little League would have the opportunity to play Babe Ruth, and then the opportunity just ended for them," said Scott Jung said, the activities and athletic director at South Heart High School. "There was no other way to play. We don't have a Legion team or anything like that. But we figured, 'We have good numbers in these summer programs, there's good talent in these summer programs. Let's take this next step.'"
Jung said the Cougars will begin play this spring and will be placed in Region 8 of Class B along with Beulah, Hazen, Hettinger, Kidder County, Shiloh Christian and Washburn-Wilton-Center-Stanton.
Jung said the schools sent out interest surveys and received commitments from 26 boys, so the interest is there, he said.
"We have boys that are really interested in playing baseball but there was no opportunity in the summer once they got out of Babe Ruth," he said. "But with their demands of other sports and other summer things - sports camps, camping, fishing, hunting, whatever - it led to them saying, 'We'd like (a team).'"
With tangible interest to speak of, then it came down to looking at the cost of adding a new sport.
Because Heart River added softball in the spring of 2015, the co-op committee was able to estimate the same cost for jerseys, equipment, bags and the like. Jung couldn't offer a concrete figure because it's still early, but he estimated about $12,000 for the initial setup.
"It will all be paid out of our (joint) Heart River athletics account," Jung said.
The baseball team will be able to split usage of pitching machines and batting cages with the softball team, so that isn't accounted for in that dollar estimation.
The head coaching position is currently being advertised on the schools' websites.
Jung added that the Park Boards in both South Heart and Belfield have made a commitment to putting money toward upgrading each town's baseball and softball diamonds in recent years, and he's pleased that facilities in both towns will now have teams to play there. With the addition of high school baseball, that team will play in Belfield and the softball team will be based in South Heart.
"Everybody's excited about it," Jung said. "It's an exciting opportunity for our kids."