BOZEMAN — Eighteen months ago, I came to you from this space with news about a dramatically new way we would be handling an ancient staple of sports pages.

Box scores.

Frankly, we were at a crossroads. Getting box scores into our newspapers and online at 406mtsports.com required an enormous amount of time for sports staffs roughly half the size they were just a decade ago — all while still covering games, looking beyond traditional footprints and managing 24/7 news cycles.

As I wrote then, we wanted to continue providing them — to be the last holdout in Montana among newspapers and the only media outlet overall to offer statewide box scores.

But just like we’d always needed help from coaches in receiving results via phone, email or fax, we were now asking them — along with athletic directors, managers … heck, even parents — to shift the paradigm.

We introduced a “portal” that would enable those same folks to submit box scores to a website where they would appear online immediately and then also in our print editions.

Once initial bugs were worked out, the portal proved to be less time-consuming for anyone with access to a desk-top computer, laptop, iPad or iPhone.

We are grateful to the many, many coaches who embraced our new world order so their athletes could continue to receive the recognition they merit.

Which brings me to the beginning of basketball season, and another crossroads.

When we realized our existing vendor no longer could provide adequate service, we revisited discussions about the future of box scores.

The upshot: Thanks to corporate support, we’re going to keep at it. To an avid segment of our readership, box scores matter.

And here’s the good news: We’ve upgraded our portal through a new vendor with possibilities far beyond what we could previously access.

On Wednesday, every high school athletic director in Montana should’ve received an email from our digital sports editor, Lindsay Rossmiller, who is uploading every school’s schedules into our database.

The email contained login information unique to each school.

The most notable and exciting difference? Each school will have its own page.

We’re starting with box scores, but for those with the time and inclination, as we build it out there will be options for more in-depth single-game stats, cumulative season stats, mug shots of players, in-game updates similar to ESPN’s Gamecast, and more.

Once a game is inputted, it will immediately appear at 406mtsports.com for fans to peruse. If submitted by 9:45 p.m., the same games will appear in print editions of the Billings Gazette, Missoulian, Helena Independent-Record and/or Montana Standard the next morning.

We realize coaches and athletic directors are busy. They don’t just do X’s and O’s and administrative work, which is why we've sought a solution that allows them to assign reporting responsibilities to people they trust — managers, scorekeepers or parents.

That’s another reason we're optimistic about this format, which is already working smoothly elsewhere in Lee Enterprises.

We tested it this past weekend with basketball games. Once rosters were inputted, each score by quarters plus individual scoring took less than a minute – much faster than submitting a game over the phone or retyping from a fax/email, and as quick as faxing/emailing.

Once names are in the system, they're there for the season, spelled correctly. It's simply fill-in-the-blanks for scoring.

By the way, these box scores enable us to produce the popular Full Court Press highlights for basketball. We will continue providing FCP, and through the new portal we hope to beef it up with more in-depth information.

Lee Montana is making this substantial investment because we still believe in the value of box scores.

They connect communities across the state through 406mtsports.com.

As I wrote 18 months ago, to continue providing box scores we need the help of readers, parents, coaches, ADs and others who care about showcasing our schools, large and small.

We are committed to making this the most user-friendly experience possible. As we begin, anyone with questions or concerns should contact me or Lindsay Rossmiller at Lindsay.rossmiller@406mtsports.com.

If this new and improved approach goes as we anticipate, we shouldn't be at a crossroads for this ancient sports staple for the foreseeable future. 

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Contact 406mtsports.com executive editor Jeff Welsch at jeff.welsch@406mtsports.com and follow him on Twitter @406sportswelsch.

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