Volunteers bring Florence softball field back to life

Posted at 9:00 AM, Apr 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-15 11:00:21-04

FLORENCE – One of the worst fire seasons in state history forced firefighters to use a Bitterroot baseball field as a fire camp.

But now, the Otto Thill Baseball Field in Florence is finally ready for use again thanks to the help of many.

2017 was probably Montana’s worst fire season in more than 100 years.

In Florence, firefighters camped on the softball field, making it unsafe to play on and the team was forced to find a new home.

Now after two years of community donations, construction, and weather delays, the field is playable once again — and on Saturday, the defending state champion Falcons hosted Frenchtown.

Florence Falcons Softball field
Firefighters camped on the Florence High School softball field in 2017, making it unsafe to play on and the team was forced to find a new home. (MTN News photo)

Head coach Rob Ralls says one parent, Chris Kovatch, worked on the field every day.

“It means a lot. You know I didn’t think it’d ever get done and he pushed through. So without Chris, it never would’ve became reality. It was just a dream, and he forced it and made it real.”

Parents fundraised, applied for grants, and built the new field as part of a grassroots effort. The school was not involved and Kovatch says he would do it all again.

“I wanted my daughter and I wanted all the other girls to play on arguably one of the nicest fields in the state,” he explained.

The work isn’t done yet though as volunteers are still working on fixing up the practice field and walking path.

Play finally resumed on the Otto Thill Baseball Field in Florence after a nearly two year hiatus. (MTN News photo)

Former softball coach Joe McKay says at one point, before the fires, the team practiced near sewers. He can’t describe what it’s like to see the new field.

“It can literally bring tears to my eyes because this program means that much to me. I just wish I wasn’t so old. I’d still be involved,” McKay said.

Parents and community members say the field was so successful that they’re also planning to upgrade the football field and track.