Plan for GP ball teams strikes out

This 2014 team photo shows the Garden Plain High School students who played on the Andale-Garden Plain district wide baseball team. Team uniforms continue to identify baseball and softball players from both Andale and Garden Plain high schools as the “Andale Indians,” although the softball team has added Garden Plain Owl patches. The Renwick Board of Education, on a 5-2 vote Monday, rejected an effort to create separate ball teams at Garden Plain High School.

Renwick BOE votes ‘no’ for separate squads

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. To see stories like this first and to get all your community news, please subscribe for home delivery. Call 316-540-0500.

By Travis Mounts

An effort to create separate baseball and softball teams for Garden Plain High School failed at Monday’s USD 267 Renwick Board of Education meeting, held at GPHS.

The vote was 5-2 against the motion, with votes falling along north-south lines. Chris Heimerman and Craig Nelson, the BOE members from District 3 representing the Garden Plain area, were the only votes for the proposal.

Right now, students from Andale and Garden Plain high schools play baseball and softball on a cooperative, district wide team. That has been the setup since baseball and softball were introduced about a decade ago. The district also introduced golf and bowling teams with the cooperative format. The two high schools also share cross country teams; Garden Plain used to have its own cross country team. The golf team practices at Cherry Oaks Golf Course in Cheney, about 8 miles from Garden Plain High School. Cross country is based at Andale High. Bowlers practice at West Acres in west Wichita.

The effort to get separate baseball teams has been going on for about 18 months. The patrons pushing for the addition of Garden Plain ball teams said they would raise funds to cover all the teams’ costs for the first three seasons.

Russ Becker spoke on behalf of those parents.

“In the past few months, we’ve rebooted the process,” he said, noting he was worked with GPHS principal Kati Thul and GPHS activities director Lee Gillen. Becker said he believed the group had answered the proposal’s three top issues: sustainability, facilities and financing.

As for sustainability, “I believe we’ve addressed that,” Becker said. “We have 24 girls who have shown an interest in playing, as well as 20 boys.”

Those numbers represented students in grades 8 through 11.

Becker said practice facilities would be ready for the 2019 season, and that an agreement had been reached for game fields, too.

He said he understands the financial difficulties the district has faced in recent years and continues to face. He said the group feels it can self-fund the first three years of the program.

“We just ask to give it an opportunity,” Becker said.

Several people said they felt the baseball and softball cooperative is not working well right now.

Thul addressed those issues, as well as budget concerns.

“I do want to see our school grow and I do want to offer everything I can to our students,” she said, adding that the district-wide program is “not ideal.”

Thul said GPHS has other needs, too. She would like to add a full-time FACS (family and consumer science) teacher and a full-time Spanish teacher. As Garden Plain Elementary principal, she had to cut a reading specialist position due to financial constraints.

“That was the hardest thing I had to do as an administrator,” she said, adding that if Garden Plain’s enrollment was where it used to be a number of years ago, she would support the new program without question.

Thul said the combined programs can be successful, “if people put in the work.” She called it a mistake to put “Andale” on the baseball uniforms instead of Renwick.

After public comments, the board took up the discussion. It was clear from the start that there was not a consensus, although several board members said they were conflicted on the issue.

More than once, the cooperative program was referred to as “broken.”

“Whether it’s perception or reality…kids are getting treated differently,” said Heimerman. “It’s a sacrifice. It’s harder.”

Nelson said some parents don’t want their children making the drive to Andale for practice, or the kids are not old enough to drive on their own.

In the first years of the program, the district provided transportation. There were issues with students not using it, especially for the ride home, when they would catch a ride with other players, Bourne said. He said the cost of providing the transportation also factored into the decision to end it, although that was not the only factor.

Board president Greg Tice asked if a lack of transportation was the main issue.

“It’s more than that,” Heimerman answered.

The numbers of Garden Plain kids playing baseball and softball was part of the discussion. Last year, nine boys tried out for baseball and six made the team, and four girls were on the softball team. There seemed to be agreement that the numbers could be better, but consensus could not be reached on why.

“They’re not even going out,” Tice said.

“That’s because they know they don’t have a chance,” Heimerman quickly responded.

Board member Joanna Fair asked if putting “Renwick” on the jerseys would be enough.

“It’s not about the jerseys. It’s about pride for your schools,” Heimerman said.

It was noted that if Garden Plain had its own teams, there would be an opportunity for more students from Andale, Colwich and St. Marks to play on the Andale team.

While everyone acknowledged there have been problems with communication regarding the ball teams, Bourne took offense at the idea that the Renwick district is divided.

“I was here a long time. I remember when this was a divided school district,” he said, noting that under former superintendent Dr. Dan Peters and with the help of many parents, a lot was done to bring the school district together.

“We are a united district, and we need to continue to be a united district, regardless of what happens tonight,” Bourne said. He stressed district decisions are made with benefit of all students in mind.

Both schools need to do a better a job to improve the experience for kids, Bourne said. After the motion to create Garden Plain teams failed, Bourne said he would schedule a meeting with the building principals to start a conversation about improving the situation with the ball teams.