Special Report: Baseball in the North Platte Area

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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. -- Every year, when summer arrives, the ping of aluminum bats and the slap of a ball hitting a leather glove can be heard on baseball fields in and around North Platte.

"Kids are extremely excited to play in the summer because it is the only opportunity to play," said Pete Volz, vice president of the North Platte Legion Baseball Board.

The summer is an important time for baseball players in the area, because it is the first they can step on the diamond and compete against other teams. High schools in the North Platte area do not offer baseball as a sport.

"Other than Grand Island (Senior High), it's an extremely eastern Nebraska activity," said Mark Skillstad, principal and athletic director at North Platte Saint Pat's.

For smaller Class C & D schools in the area, starting a baseball team would be tough due to low enrollment numbers.

"If you do that, you're basically going to lose possibly some of your track kids, some of your golf kids," said Jeremy Thomas, activities director at Hershey Public Schools. "A school our size can't really function having an additional sport."

Even for a Class A school, like North Platte High School, the idea of creating a baseball team would present some challenges.

"We (NPHS) are at the bottom of Class A so it would be hard to field a team without affecting track, soccer, and golf participation numbers," said NPPS activities director Marc Mrozcek in an email.

However, there is some interest in starting a baseball program in the future.

"If the opportunity could be there to start a program, we are certainly looking into it," said Ryan Jones with Maxwell Public School. "It is probably a long shot and it would take a few years but the idea has been passed around."

At the Nebraska School Activities Association District IV meeting in November of 2013, North Platte area schools had the chance to consider a proposal to have baseball added as a summer sport. However, local administrators say the proposal wasn't able to explain how the activity could be implemented without hurting American Legion programs.

"It was an interesting proposal but it never went past the first legislative step," said Skillstad.

According to players and coaches with the legion baseball program in North Platte, they say the lack of high school baseball in the area can hinder their ability to compete with teams in the east, where players have had the chance to play during the spring.

"That really gives the Omaha, Lincoln schools an advantage when we go there and play them," said Darian Allberry, member of the North Platte First Nationals senior legion team.

However, less time on the field can actually be a benefit.

"By the time they (eastern teams) are done with summer ball, they are worn out," said assistant coach Jason Pflughaupt. "Our guys are just getting into their groove (in) mid-June."

For now, schools in the North Platte area don't offer baseball but through organizations like the American Legion, athletes can still play America's Pastime.