The HHS softball team, under the direction of head coach Brent Hall, right, and assistant coach Ryan Munson, will remain in the fall in 2014.

The Houston softball program is staying put in the fall. At least for now.

The school board decided last Tuesday the district will continue to compete in the current fall season in 2014. Because there was no change in the setup, there was no official vote.

Houston has explored the option of switching softball to the spring since the Missouri State High School Activities Association made the move available to member schools. The advantage at Houston would be to allow female athletes to play both volleyball, which competes in the fall, and softball.

But administrators and coaches expressed concerns during the board meeting about playing softball in the spring. Among them were:

  • Transportation. Only 80 schools statewide have declared to move to the spring. Just five – Mountain Grove, Cabool, Plato, Summersville and Eminence – are in the region. Houston would likely play some of its road games in the Springfield and Poplar Bluff regions.
  • Coaches. If softball moved to the spring, the team would be under new leadership. Head coach Brent Hall is also in charge of the baseball program and has previously said he would remain with baseball. His assistant coach for both sports is Ryan Munson. If softball competed in the spring, the team would need at least one and potentially two new coaches. With Hall and Munson at the helm, the softball team has a combined 21-16 record the past two seasons and won the program’s first-ever district championship in 2012. “I very much come from the school of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Superintendent Scott Dill told the board. “These guys are doing an excellent job, and I don’t think anyone would argue that. If we split them up, it will take away from both sports.”
  • Umpires. Many of the softball umpires also call baseball games. If both sports were in the spring season, there would be a high demand for quality umpires to call softball games. “I’m afraid in the spring, if our local people are working baseball games, you might have to get them from Jefferson City or Springfield,” Hall said. “That’s an added expense.”
  • No conference. With only Mountain Grove and Cabool declaring for the spring, there will not be a South Central Association during that season. There are enough schools remaining in the fall –– Ava, Thayer, Liberty, Willow Springs, Salem and Houston –– to have a six-team conference.

If Houston moved softball to the spring, there would be four choices – tennis, golf, track and softball – for female athletes. Volleyball would be the lone choice in the fall.

“When we talked in the beginning, my feeling was that we should do what’s best for the kids,” Hall said. “The girls have to make a decision between softball and volleyball. That’s tough. How many girls would (softball) gain, I don’t know.

“We’re going to field a team regardless. Could we pull in some better athletes to play? Sure, that’s a possibility. And vice versa, volleyball could benefit. But there are a lot of unknowns.”

The coaches, administrators and board members cited the unknowns in their hesitance to switch seasons. As it currently stands, there will be one championship class in the spring. Houston would have the sixth-largest enrollment of all schools competing that season. Dexter, with an enrollment of 568, is the largest. Houston’s enrollment is 357. MSHSAA said it would form another class when more than 120 schools register for the spring. When, and if, that will happen is uncertain.

“I’m not opposed either way,” Dill said. “If the board made the decision to play spring ball, we will move that direction with a smile on our faces and get it done. I have questions to the value of it at this point.”

Athletic Director Brent Kell requested and received permission to send surveys to middle and high school students to gauge their interest in playing both volleyball and softball. That data would be available when the school board says it will revisit the issue in the future when there is more information about the spring season.

HHS principal Charlie Malam, a former coach, expressed concerns about MSHSAA allowing individual districts to decide when they will play softball.

“I hope this is not a trend with MSHSAA giving us an option of which season to play,” he said. “I know many athletes who went through the school who would have loved to play golf in the fall and baseball in the spring, but they had to make a choice. This is pretty unusual, and I hope it’s not a trend where we are left locally to try to work that out.”

If the board made the decision to play spring ball, we will move that direction with a smile on our faces and get it done. I have questions to the value of it at this point.”

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