By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The hearing with the Human Rights Commission concerning swapping girls basketball and volleyball seasons has been postponed and possibly vacated altogether, according to a memo sent to all Montana High School Association schools from Jim Haugen, executive director.
This has occurred because of questions concerning whether the commission has jurisdiction to adjudicate constitutional issues, the memo said. Because of the foregoing, the hearing will not proceed on October 25th which was the date to which the case was postponed in August.
For more than 10 years, proposals have been brought before the MHSA concerning the idea to move girls basketball to the winter, where it would run in conjunction with boys basketball, and moving volleyball to the fall, when girls basketball has traditionally been played in Montana.
Three volleyball coaches and two daughters, John Ries and daughter from Butte, Mary Kay Hovland and daughter from Big Fork, and John LaBonty from Glasgow, are behind this latest effort.
Those three coaches will have to decide whether they will enter their claim in district court, Havre High School Athletic Director Charlie Klimas said. It seems this will go through the courts, rather than the human rights division.
Havre High School opposed the move, arguing lack of officials, coaches giving up jobs and facilities as problems.
A lack of officials already plagues the area, Klimas said.
Lack of extra gym space is also an immediate problem.
A very, very comprehensive ad hoc committee went through Montana about four years ago to get a feel from coaches, athletes, and parents, Klimas said. The information they gathered said, Dont change.
For me, said LaBonty, the head volleyball coach at Glasgow, its an equity issue. The girls in the state of Montana are not treated the same way the boys in the state of Montana are treated. This is going to continue, he said about the hearing. It is just postponed, not canceled.
As an example of inequality, LaBonty said, an Arizona football team came into Montana and played the Great Falls Rustlers this fall.
Because of the difference of seasons between Montana volleyball and volleyball in other states, girls are not afforded the same opportunity, LaBonty said.
Changing the seasons would put us in alignment with the rest of the nation, LaBonty said.
Other proponents of the change argue that volleyball players are not given scholarship opportunities equal to athletes in other states.
It is an issue, LaBonty said, But, in my mind, its not the biggest issue.
Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Michigan play volleyball in the winter. All other states play in the fall.
Forty six other states have made the adjustments, LaBonty said. I know we could, too.
Proponents said that players are being overlooked because the recruiting process is completed before the Montana season has even began.
Our belief around here is they (the recruiting colleges) know about you as a sophomore, Klimas said. Most players are recruited as juniors, so, what about the girl who has an outstanding senior year? It makes their point kind of moot.
Class AA schools, for example, Butte and Missoula, strongly support the season change.
Class B and C schools throughout Montana oppose it.
For a lot of the smaller C schools, they dont have volleyball, and girls basketball is their life, Klimas said. They make the switch, and the community has nothing to do in the fall.
Over 90 percent of Montana schools have volleyball, LaBonty said. It could afford those last 10 percent an opportunity to create a sport for girls.
Is it costing kids scholarships? Yes, said head Havre High volleyball coach Bill Huebsch. But, how many D-1 kids come out of their school? I could probably count them on one hand.
I think you are making a judgment for the kids, said head Havre High girls and boys basketball coach Dennis Murphy. You need to make a judgment for the majority, not for just a few.
It would affect girls basketball more negatively than turn positive for volleyball, Murphy said. We need to do whats best for the kids. There are 27 head coaches in Montana that do both (coach boys and girls seasons). The quality of coaching would go down, that, in turn, would lead to the quality of players going down, and those kids lose scholarship opportunities. Second, if you did move the seasons, there would be some elimination of teams. There is a shortage of practice facilities and shortage of officials. We would have to look at dropping a program, and that would eliminate more opportunities for kids to participate.
Overall, were not in the business of high school recruiting, Murphy said. If we are, we need to look at how we could be paid more. Our job is to give kids the opportunity to grow mentally, physically, and socially and we do that through sports.