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New Grizzly softball team to take field next year
The bats, balls, and helmets have arrived. The uniforms are en route. A field is in the works. Come this time next year, a new breed of bear will take the field to represent UM Athletics.
Led by coach Jamie Pinkerton, the Montana Grizzlies softball team will embark on its inaugural season in February 2015 in a tournament at New Mexico State University.
“The reality probably won’t hit me until that first pitch is thrown,” Pinkerton says from his Adams Center office. “It’s an exciting time for the University of Montana.”
Hired in August, Pinkerton hit the ground running. The first order of business, obviously, was finding some players. He was able to land six by November, and despite getting a late start, he was more than pleased with his first group of signees. His goal now is to balance out the roster with some players from the junior college ranks, and he’ll recruit Montana hard during the spring high school season. An open try-out for current UM students also was held in April.
With twenty years of Division I softball experience, Pinkerton knows the importance of having in-state players on his squad.
“We definitely want Montanans on the team if they are D-I caliber,” he says. “In-state kids already have Montana pride, and a lot of them know the Griz tradition. And every kid in Montana is going to want to come here because we are the only D-I program. So I want Montana kids. Anywhere I’ve been, in-state kids have been pretty feverish about their school. At the same time, they’ve got to be able to play at a high level. If they are out there, and they can play, the Griz program wants them.”
Along with recruiting, Pinkerton and the athletic department have had to do all the other things that come along with building a program from the ground up. Getting his office set up, ordering equipment, hiring an assistant coach, scheduling, and budgeting are all pieces of the puzzle.
“It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s been kind of like drinking water through a fire hose,” Pinkerton says. “There are a lot of moving parts. But that’s why I came here. It was intriguing.”
Pinkerton has a vast softball résumé, including head-coaching stops at the University of Tulsa and the University of Arkansas. Most recently, he was an assistant at Iowa State University. He was chosen for the UM job from a pool of nearly 100 applicants.
The Griz softball program got its start in May 2011 when the Montana Board of Regents approved an increased student athletic fee to help UM remain in compliance with Title IX gender-equity metrics.
The increase was not written specifically for the addition of a women’s softball program, but because of the rise in popularity of the sport at the prep level in the state and in the region, it was the logical choice to become UM’s fifteenth intercollegiate sport and ninth women’s program.
The Grizzlies will compete in the Big Sky Conference, which formed as a softball league in 2013. The team will host its first conference game on March 21, 2015, against Idaho State University.
Exactly where that game will take place has yet to be determined. Plans are in the initial stages for a softball complex at South Campus, which would put the field alongside the track and soccer facilities. It’s doubtful a field will be constructed in time, so the Grizzlies likely will play at a local high school or a Missoula Parks and Recreation field.
Pinkerton clearly is thrilled to lead the Griz program.
“It’s truly an honor to be entrusted with building the program,” he says. “And I don’t take it lightly. I get to draw out the plan, have my fingerprints on it, and build it with the help of everyone in the athletic department. I’ve taken great pride in the jobs I’ve done in the past. But when the day comes that I’m not coaching anymore, I’d like to be able to look back and say, ‘Hey, the Grizzlies are looking pretty good, and I helped build that program.’ Hopefully we’ll be competing for Big Sky championships and NCAA bids every season.”
John Heaney is the editor-in-chief of the Montanan. An Anaconda native, John graduated from UM in 2002 and took the helm of the Montanan in 2010. In between, he worked for the Missoulian, the Spokesman-Review, the Coeur d'Alene Press and the Anaconda Leader.