Longtime Kalispell Flathead track coach Dan Hodge pulled out his phone to show me a photo.
It was a picture I took in April of 2017. Dillon superstar Troy Andersen was winning the 100-meter dash at a cold meet on the Charlie Merrifield Track. He was running a ridiculously fast time on a day when some snow fell.
In the background, running well behind, was Butte High freshman Tommy Mellott.
Someone shared that photo on Twitter late in the 2021 football season, showing off two stars of the Montana State University football team.
Hodge, a Butte High graduate and a member of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame, showed me that picture at a meet in Missoula last spring. Anderson had just been drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, and Mellott was the toast of the state after leading the Bobcats to the national championship game as a freshman.
Hodge showed me the photo, that he didn’t know that I took while working for Butte Sports, to illustrate his point about the importance of running track.
If you want to be a better football player, run track. If you want to be a better basketball player, run track. You want to be a better volleyball player, a better wrestler or a better swimmer, run track.
You want to be a better baseball player, run track.
Running track will make you faster, and it will help you get in better shape.
The coach said running track is better for you than early-morning football workouts. Track is the secret to being a better athlete, no matter what sport you want to specialize in.
Hodge is right about that.
Butte High baseball coach Jim LeProwse apparently thinks so, too. That is why the first part of every baseball practice is with the track team.
LeProwse and Arie Grey, who doubles as the leader of Butte High’s football team and track program, came up with the idea that has a double benefit.
The Bulldogs will be faster on the baseball diamond, and a few more boys might compete in track meets for the school.
Butte High’s baseball and track schedules were set up so boys can compete in both sports, if they want to. The Class AA State baseball tournament is the weekend before the State track meets.
Hopefully that same setup can be made so that girls around the state can compete in track and softball. If they want to.
With their set up, LeProwse and Grey are proving that high school baseball in Montana can be a very good thing. The recent heavy winter storms and lingering snow and ice from a brutal winter do not change that.
The naysayers, though, seem to want to use the weather as a moment to say, “I told you so” as we try to begin Montana’s first high school baseball season.
Yes, Butte High’s first three games have been postponed, including Monday’s scheduled game against Butte Central at 3 Legends Stadium. Central’s first four games have been snowed out.
The eventual rescheduling of the games might cut into the plans to allow Butte High’s baseball players to compete in track meets.
But you know what? California got a ton of late snow, too. Spring training players in Arizona suffered through the cold.
While springtime in the Rockies has never been ideal, weather can wreak havoc on a baseball game anywhere.
It doesn’t just affect baseball, either. Softball, track, tennis and lacrosse have all had events postponed or canceled in Montana.
We’ve had basketball games postponed because of snow storms, too.
Rain completely wiped out the 1996 State softball tournaments in Montana, something that is still a sore spot with the players from the teams around the state.
Weather canceled the 2019 Class AA Divisional softball tournaments, robbing many teams, including the Butte High Bulldogs, of a chance of making a postseason run.
By the way, none of those softball tournaments were scheduled for Butte, which sits at more than a mile above sea level and has worst weather than most.
This time a year ago, there was not much of a hint of snow in town at all, so not every spring is bad for sports.
During the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire spring schedule, the weather was great. We would not have had a single postponement.
That just goes to show you that Mother Nature has a sick sense of humor.
This year, like many springs, the weather is almost unbearable. It is almost as if it is not a good idea to live in Montana at all.
Consider that if you are one of those people thinking of moving here because you like a silly television show with Kevin Costner wearing a cowboy hat.
Montana is not easy living.
It is also hard to live in Alaska at times, and they play high school baseball there.
Until this spring, Montana was one of the last states in the union without high school baseball. Now, Wyoming stands alone.
As of now, just 21 schools have elected to play baseball in Montana. Butte High and Belgrade are the only schools in Class AA to play, and that is too bad.
Other schools are choosing not to play for various reasons. Some places gave into pressure from American Legion programs that don’t want to share the season.
Other schools do not have the facilities to play yet. Some might not have the interest to field a team. Some have administrators who just don’t want to start a new program.
None can legitimately claim weather as a reason not to play. Not when they play high school baseball in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.
If you can play Legion baseball in the spring, you can play high school baseball.
And, like the other 48 states playing baseball, Legion and high school baseball can coexist. In Butte, the two programs are working hand-in-hand to make both stronger.
Other schools should follow suit because high school baseball is opening doors and opportunities to more boys.
That is what high school sports are all about. That is what sports are all about.
Why the I-told-you-so crowd wants to point to baseball as the bad guy is puzzling.
The more sports — or any extracurricular activities — that students take part in, the better.
Go out for the band. Audition for a play. Tryout for the cheerleading team. Join the art club. Try speech and debate. Run cross country. Golf. Play soccer. Join the football, basketball, swimming or wrestling teams.
In the spring, play softball, tennis, baseball or lacrosse — if you can stand the cold.
When you get older, you will never regret the activities you try. You will only regret the ones you did not.
The more sports you compete in, the better you will be at the one you like the best. No matter which sport that is, going out for track will make you better.
Dan Hodge has the photo to prove it.
— Bill Foley, who would be in the Hall of Fame if Montana had high school baseball in his day, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Listen to the ButteCast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.