HHS's Thill retiring from the dugout
Havre High catcher Mary Lyons (back) dives to tag a Livingston runner during a Central A girls fastpitch softball game back in April in Havre. After two years under head coach Mike Thill, the Pony softball program is in need of a new head coach. Thill recently announced his retirement.
The Havre High softball program has been on the rise over the last two seasons. But unfortunately, after all of the hard work and dedication head coach Mike Thill has put into the Blue Pony program over the last two years, Thill will not get to see where this program ends up, not from the dugout at least.
Thill took over the Pony reigns from former head coach Bob Evans two seasons ago. Thill came out of retirement to do so; he retired from coaching in 2006, but was in it for the long haul. His body had other plans however, as Havre High and Thill has announced his retirement. Thill underwent knee surgery and just hasn't been able to recover like he thought he would be able to, forcing him to reevaluate his decision to get back into coaching.
"It was fun to get back up here," Thill said. "And it sure was an honor to get to coach at Havre High and I have to thank the administration for allowing me to do that. I had really planned on being here for many years.
"I didn't recover from that last knee surgery like they thought I would," Thill added. "It is actually worse off than before I hade the surgery. I love coaching, but I just can't do justice if I can't get out and demonstrate, and do all the things I need to do, and put in the time."
Thill took over the Pony program after their best run at the Class A state tournament in the programs' short history. Under coach Evans the Ponies won three games at state after going 0-6 the previous three attempts. But Thill also took over a team that lost some of the best players in the programs history, in Holly Cartwright, Kelli Kelsey, Abigail Ita and Tabith Myers. Coming into his first season as the new head coach, Thill made it very clear that the Ponies were not rebuilding, but reloading instead, and after housing a very young roster for the last two seasons, that is exactly what HHS did.
There was no state berth for the Ponies two years ago, but the Ponies were just a coin a flip away from the state tournament this last season. That was quite a few very big steps forward for the young program that often times started half a dozen freshmen and had just three seniors on the roster this season. Thill was able to turn a young and inexperienced team into a competitive team that played beyond their years.
"They are back on their feet now," Thill said. "But it wouldn't matter if they were returning state champions, the fact that they are changing coaches will be an adjustment for players. It will take kids two or three years for kids to adjust to the program you try to implement, but any coach should be excited about how we left off and what they have left in the program. With the freshman we had and with all the kids coming back, I feel really confident that whoever takes over will be able to do a good job with this program.
"These are all good athletes with good attitudes and they want to get better. There is a great group of parents, so all of those things factor in to a team that can hopefully keep moving up the ladder," he added.
With the new softball season still nearly a year away, Havre High is in no rush to replace Thill. HHS is going through the search process now, and posted the job opening to in-house applicants on Wednesday. After that posting takes its course, the job will also be open to outside applicants. But a search for a new head coach may not go as smoothly as hoped. Thill was a great find for Havre High, as Thill graduated from HHS in the 1960's and was more than excited to return home to coach. There are currently no teaching jobs open at HHS, limiting the applicants who may choose to inquire.
"We were real fortunate to get Mike Thill," HHS Principal Dennis Murphy said. "I ran into him at a softball all-star tournament and then we talked about him coming to Havre. I am not sure what the interest will be moving forward, but the season is nearly 10 months away and we aren't in a rush to find a replacement."