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Worth a Go
Idaho City High School launches baseball, softball programs for the first time in school history
Published: 3/17/2021 8:30:41 AM
Brandon Baney
Content Manager/Broadcaster
brandon@idahosports.com
 

Photo courtesy of John McFarlane/Idaho City High Yearbook Club

This past Saturday, Boise’s Memorial Stadium was ready for baseball. The foul lines were chalked, the infield dirt was packed, and the outfield grass was freshly cut.

Baseball fans are used to seeing the Boise Hawks take the field at Memorial Stadium, but on this particular day, another tenant emerged from the home team’s dugout.

For the first time in school history, Idaho City is fielding a baseball and softball program. Each squad made their school debut on Saturday against Marsing. The baseball team hosted the Huskies at Memorial Stadium and dropped both games of a doubleheader 17-1 and 19-11. The softball team traveled to Marsing and fell 26-11.

Final scores notwithstanding, the fact that both teams were able to take the field and compete was viewed as a major achievement at Idaho City High. Brian Hunicke is in his third season as Idaho City’s Superintendent. He’s also in his first season as an assistant baseball coach. “I’ve got a couple seniors that have been wanting to play since they were freshmen,” Hunicke said. “The baseball and softball parents are very excited. They’ve had Little League up here, but then it kind of stops (at the high school level).”

Softball coach Natalie Kulick said most of her players played Little League baseball growing up, and she even coached a few Little League teams in the past. Kulick is excited to finally coach softball, though.

“As soon as I got there, I definitely wanted a team,” Kulick said. “And I’ve been asking the Athletic Director for years, ‘Can we get a ball team?’ And we have snow on the field, and we don’t have a field ourselves, so there’s a lot of logistical nightmares to consider, but it’s worth a go.”

Kulick is originally from St. Louis and came to Idaho City with her husband in 2009. ““My husband and I ended up in Idaho mainly for the rivers,” she said. “We just look for the green on the map outside of Boise (the National Parks). Idaho City has been my community ever since.”

Hunicke said that Kulick had been penciled in as a prospective softball coach for quite some time. It wasn’t until he found a baseball coach, though, that their dreams could come to fruition. “Natalie actually wanted to start a team a while ago, but they just couldn’t get it going,” Hunicke said. “And then Chris Turner came in as a bus driver (from Tuscaloosa, Alabama). He used to play college baseball, and he’s got a passion for the game. So all of a sudden I had a softball coach and a baseball coach that were passionate about it. And I said, ‘What do you guys think about trying to start a softball and baseball program in the middle of a pandemic?’

Kulick and Turner were on board, but several roadblocks stood in their way.

Track and field has traditionally been the only spring sport available at Idaho City. With the addition of baseball and softball, all three programs are having to share. Ten athletes (five for baseball, five for softball) split their time between two sports. But athletes aren’t the only shared commodity. There’s also the issue of practice space.

“We have the issue of basically having two to three feet of snow up here, so we’re all practicing in the same facilities,” Hunicke said. “We have a high school gym and an elementary gym, so we’re having to coordinate all of that.”

For now, Hunicke said track and field has dibs on the high school gym, but “our elementary principal has been great. In our elementary gym, we actually rigged up a 35-foot batting cage in there, and we put down artificial turf to stand on, and then we run everybody through that.”

Coach Kulick has become even more creative when finding spots for the softball team to practice. “We’re getting some outside time at the Community Center, which is just one street down from the school,” Kulick said. “It has a parking lot where the snow has been cleared off, so we just walk off the bases, and we’ve gotten some playing time there.”

She added, “There’s also an area between the elementary and high school buildings that’s clear of snow, so we utilize the hard top there. And I tell the girls, ‘These are going to come off a lot differently than they would in the grass, so you gotta be on the ball.’ But we’re making it work.”

One of Chris Turner’s biggest obstacles to overcome has been finding players for the baseball team. “I recruited everyone,” Turner said. “I just needed numbers to get the program going. And what’s been refreshing is, (my team has) several of the kids that no one has ever paid attention to, that have been written off as not being athletes whatsoever. And to watch these kids in less than 12 days go from not being able to catch, not being able to throw, not knowing how to hold a bat, to just hitting bullets and starting to swing the (crap) out of it, it’s incredibly cool.”

Another major problem has been funding. “We didn’t budget for it, so we’re having to raise $30,000 to get both programs going,” Hunicke said. “We’ve only raised about half so far, so we’ve got a ways to go.”

Idaho City has gotten a lot of help along the way.  Dick’s Sporting Goods recently donated $11,000 to the cause.

Photo courtesy of John McFarlane/Idaho City High Yearbook Club

“So that was kind of an interesting bit of luck,” Hunicke said. “I called Dick’s one day just asking if they had coupons or discounts for the kids, because we have some kids that can’t afford anything. And I told them our story of how we’re starting up, and the regional manager later told me that at a virtual conference, everybody liked our story so much that a bunch of the regional managers gave up their sponsorship money and pooled it together to give to us. And they’ve been great ever since.”

Kulick added, “I definitely want to recognize Gearld Wolf with the G.A.L.S. (Girls Athletic League Softball) Caldwell Complex. He’s a wonderful guy. He’s given us helmets, bats, catching equipment. And it’s been cool to see how generous people are.”

So with equipment and players ready to go, the final hurdle to clear has been the schedule, mostly because Idaho City doesn’t have a varsity field.

“We will have to travel every single game,” Hunicke said. “And we tried to schedule the games to where the boys and the girls can both play, but some of the teams don’t have a boys team or a girls team, so we couldn’t combine some of those."

"Just to go down from here to Boise is about $500, so it adds up pretty quick,” he added. “We’ve tried to schedule double-headers and do as much as we could. And hopefully we can fundraise and get a field up here next year.”

Which brings us back to Memorial Stadium in Boise. For a day, Idaho City had a ballpark they could call their own, thanks to the Boise Hawks. In exchange for the use of their facilities, the Idaho City baseball team will travel back to Memorial Stadium on March 20th and help paint over the Hawks’ outdated logo, as they are no longer affiliated with minor league baseball.

“There’s a guy down the road here that has a painting company. I’m hoping we can persuade him to help us out,” Turner joked.

That sort of creativity has served Idaho City well, especially when it comes to fundraising.

“The School District actually has 86 acres of forest land, and we’ve been trimming all the snags and stuff,” Hunicke said. “So as soon as the snow melts, we’re going to sell some firewood. We’re also doing a pizza sale, we’ll have a booth at the Chili Cook-Off (March 20th), and maybe do an online auction as well.”

With Hunicke, Kulick and Turner leading the charge, the future of Idaho City baseball and softball is in good hands.

 



 


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