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Remembering Bill Gianoulias...A Legend and Visionary of Little League
Bill Gianoulias

 Passing of Bill Gianoulias a Loss for Little League  

Written by

Scott Mansch

Great Falls Tribune Sports Editor

Had any Little League baseball been scheduled today in Great Falls, the flags would be at half-staff.

Out of respect for Bill Gianoulias.

Gianoulias died a few days ago in his hometown of Great Falls. He was 90.

“That guy had a huge impact,” said Keith Miller, currently the District Administrator for Little League District 2. “He was a mentor to me and opened a lot of doors for me.”

A few years ago, the Great Falls Americans organization, the city’s eastside Little League faction, named its premier softball diamond “Bill Gianoulias Field.”

“Bill was always good to me,” said former Americans president Kent Seaton, who recently retired after devoting a quarter-century of volunteer work to the group. “He did a lot for a lot of kids.”

There are just two Little League districts in the state. District 2 is the western part of Montana, including Great Falls, Missoula and Butte; District 1 is the Billings area.

Gianoulias was District Administrator for District 2 for several decades, during which time girls’ softball became integrated into the Little League scene.

“Our district was actually one of the first in the country to offer Little League softball for girls,” said Miller, who lives in Butte. “There were others involved, but Bill was the spearhead … He was really a pioneer. And what a great guy he was.

“He took people like me, a young kid who was an umpire, and connected with them. It was the same thing with Mark Beckman.”

Beckman, now the executive director of the Montana High School Association, first met Gianoulias about 40 years ago.

“When I was 15, 16, 17, I was doing some umpiring Northwest Little League baseball in Butte, and he saw me,” Beckman said.

“He eventually appointed me umpire-in-chief, or what was actually called umpire consultant. I was awfully young, but he had a lot of confidence in me.”

Beckman went on to umpire many girls’ softball tournaments at the regional and national levels of Little League.

He credits much of his success in that area to Gianoulias.

“Bill’s drive, his vision and his leadership really got Little League girls’ softball started,” said Beckman. “I thought he was a wonderful guy, and his wife Barb is a great gal, too.”

Gianoulias leaves quite a legacy in Great Falls and beyond.

“There’s no doubt,” Beckman said. “His leadership brought Little League in our state to where it is now.”

George Geise, the longtime former sports editor of the Great Falls Tribune, knew Gianoulias well. And Geise, whose father started a Little League organization in Janesville, Wis., and who has volunteered for many years as a youth baseball official and coach in Great Falls, knows how much time and effort Gianoulias devoted to young ballplayers.

“When he was the administrator, Little League in Great Falls was a lot bigger proposition than it is now,” said Geise. “It was a real big job. Bill loved baseball, there’s no doubt about that. And he was a real personable guy, too.”

When Gianoulias stepped down from his District Administrator post about 15 years ago, Renny Malach of Missoula took over the position for nearly a decade.

Miller has been in the position now for five years and always tried to include Gianoulias by providing him with Little League programs and pins.

The news of Gianoulias’s death caused Miller to send an email to Little League officials in the state. It read, in part:

“He taught me that it’s always how you treat people that matters, that it’s always the right thing to take the high road -- no matter how hard the situation. He taught me that the kids come first and that we are here for them and not the reverse. I also learned that leadership came from example, not words. If I am half the leader Bill Gianoulias was, I will consider myself a great success.”

A memorial service is slated Tuesday morning at 11 at Croxford’s Funeral Home in Great Falls.

Donations should be directed to the “Bill Gianoulias Scholarship Fund,” which benefits Little League ballplayers.

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