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Hard work helped faspitch softball become a reality at Havre High

In 2004, the Blue Pony girls fastpitch program was born out of determination, and the generosity of many

 

Havre Daily News/File Photo

In the early days of Havre High girls softball, the Blue Ponies played in the Western A Conference. In just their second year, the Ponies, under then head coach Bob Evans Sr., reached the Class A state tournament.

This was to be the biggest week in the season. The week that would have been the 2020 Class A State Softball tournament.

Before COVID-19 struck down the spring sports season in Montana, the Havre High softball team had plenty of goals, including being a part of the state tournament this weekend. But that chance will not come this year, which is quite a painful thing to experience for the many teams that were ready to get back out on the field.

Havre has been to plenty of state tournaments, but in reality, HHS is still a relatively young program in the landscape of high school softball.

The Blue Ponies became a program officially in 2004. That year, Havre became a softball program, while boys cross country was also added to the Blue Pony roster of sports.

So, with no state tournament this weekend, it's important to reflect on Havre's roots.

Originally, girls fastpitch softball was a summer club sport in Havre. But after some years, the club program had a goal to become an official sport at Havre High. At first, that aim was brushed away, but the club softball program worked with the boys cross country enthusiasts to try again.

The Havre Public School Board then told the club that $75,000 had to be raised in order for the program to go through. And the club worked hard to reach that goal, raising $85,000 with the help of the community to get the program going as a high school sport in Havre.

"Two years prior to 2004-2005, we actually had a club team," Havre Activites Director Dennis Murphy said. "It was able to, back in those days, it could still be a club team and play high school sanctioned teams. They did that for two years and in the third year, the Montana High School Association said that club teams can't play high school teams anymore. Fastpitch was gaining strength in Montana and Havre being fastpitch mecca, if you will, for the past few years because we've been really good it was becomng a big sport."

Former Havre softball pitcher Kelsey Ward, who was Kelsey Evans at the time, was a part of the first two years of the new Blue Pony program, playing on the newly formed team her junior and senior years. Ward was there when it all started and had a big part in the beginning of a strong program.

But before that time, Ward competed in club softball and she remembered the hard work that led to the birth of the program at Havre.

"Club softball was just a chance for girls to try it and see if fastpitch was a game they wanted to pursue or be in," Ward said. "That kind of led us to asking to Title IX with the school board and we had partnered with boys cross country. When we first asked to have a high school sanctioned sport, they actually denied our wishes because of funding, so what we did as an organization was we raised $85,000 ourselves and that gave us some years of play. Once we had funding that we worked so hard on and got support from our community, we were approved in the 2004 school year."

Their goal of becoming a high school softball program was now complete and just by looking at the sign at the Sixth Avenue Memorial Field in Havre, it is clear that many, many generous people from the community gave it their all to help support the funding of the new program. That sign still hangs today, proud and strong, like the people who worked so hard to make the dream become reality.

Along with Ward and her teammates, the first ever head coach for the program was Bob Evans Sr., who is still a big part of the program today, as well. Under Evans, the Ponies started competing in the Western conference against other high school opponents. It took some time to get things really going, but it was not long before the program found itself in a great position.

With the Blue Pony softball team now competing as a sanctioned team, Ward looks back on how she felt when Havre High finally had a softball program.

"It was kind of a relief because with fastpitch being so popular in Havre, and it always has been for generations, it just felt like a sport was going somewhere. Instead of competing in club softball, we got to compete against other schools and it was a slick hitch from the get-go."

The first season would be a rocky one for the Ponies, but that is a usual occurrence for new teams. As Havre competed, they would improve quite a bit, earning some attention in the program quite soon. The first few years of the program became crucial to bring about the drive the sport has today and many were proud to see Blue Pony softball start on a good path.

Then came the sophomore year of the program, which saw Havre leap its way to a great season. The Ponies would pick up wins against a tough Western conference at the time, climbing their way to a berth in the state tournament in only its second season of play. That moment helped rocket the Havre squad to a lot of success in the coming years. It is not often that a program makes it to such a high-level competition in its first couple of season, which proves just how much the team had grown in such a short time into its existence.

Ward had a lot of fun in her time with the Ponies and remembered just how much those first couple of years helped take the sport to new heights.

"For the first season, just starting out like any new team, we definitely had our struggles," Ward said. "We played in the Western conference with teams like Polson, Ronan and Browning. We were pretty competitive with Browning, but those other western teams that had been previously sanctioned for years and had already established solid teams led us to kind of struggle a bit. But we finally found our place, and it was a good starting point for the teams you see that now play. Havre fastpitch wouldn't have been the same without those first couple years where we struggled a little bit but then were able to compete pretty well my senior year and found ourselves at the state tournament in only our second year of play. That's pretty cool to do."

And from there, Havre High softball has been going strong and continues to be a staple in the spring season lineup. Since then, the Ponies have made their mark in the history books as not only a fast, quickly-adapted program in its first few years of play, but an excellent program throughout its future seasons. It took a lot of people and hard work to bring about the sanctioned team and the Havre program has not looked back since.

"Our coaches back then, like Bob Evans, got us started," Murphy said. "What a perfect guy to start our program. Here it is 16 years later and you can still find him at the diamond. That shows the passion amongst the people that got it started. We've had success in softball. We've been to state tournaments and we've competed year in and year out. The program has been solid since the conception of it as a high school sport."

 

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