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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton
Mini-Mites and Mite youngsters practice Tuesday at the Cardinal Arena in Willmar. The goalie is Chase Birchard, 8, the son of Amy Birchard, who was goalie on the Willmar Cardinals boys teams 1992-95.
Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Mini-Mites and Mite youngsters practice Tuesday at the Cardinal Arena in Willmar. The goalie is Chase Birchard, 8, the son of Amy Birchard, who was goalie on the Willmar Cardinals boys teams 1992-95.

Willmar notebook: Youth hockey eyes growth spurt

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sports Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Numbers are growing in the youth hockey ranks, especially down low.

Here are the figures Matt Dawson passed along this week: 78 on the Willmar Hockey Association traveling teams, 63 in Mites and 20 kids joining the in-house recreation program for fourth and fifth graders.

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"The rec program is new this year," commented Dawson, a tennis and hockey standout here graduating in 1987. "When I grew up we had rec hockey through fifth grade. Some of our best high school players had played rec hockey, skated outside and didn't travel until PeeWees (sixth grade)."

The rec league means no travel (or fundraising) with indoor ice on Tuesday evening and Saturday morning.

"We've have 20 fourth and fifth grade boys and girls. That's 20 new families coming into the hockey arenas this year," continued Dawson in an email this week.

Community Rec provides free equipment (pads, helmet and jersey).

Civic Center manager Kevin Madsen on Tuesday evening said he had to rustle up 12 additional sets of gear to outfit the Mites crowd.

The Willmar Hockey Boosters offers support for families of up to $500 per season. The "scholarship" application can be found at the Willmar Hockey Association website.

Tuesday night's session for Mini-Mites/Mites (K-1st grade) put about 60 boys and girls on the Cardinal Arena ice with at least a dozen adults on skates. Teams are in the process of being organized for games once a week.

They were followed on the ice by 4th and 5th graders at 7 p.m.

Dawson quotes figures that show the PeeWee team has 18 kids, down 2 from a year ago while the Bantam team is down three to 15.

That's many less than when Dawson was in school. In the 1980s, I recall at least two full Bantam and two PeeWee each year, and I believe, sometimes there might have been three PeeWee teams. And there was a Junior Gold team for senior-high students. Of course, class size were larger in the 1980s and 90s than they are now.

Basketball is always popular and the YMCA has made it even more attractive for getting involved. Wrestling is bigger than ever plus swimming and Nordic skiing offer parents four school programs by middle school.

That's why youth hockey has gone to great lengths to erase or ease the standard objections of travel and costs.

"We're also working very hard to bring back more outdoor hockey in January and February but if it's a mild winter our goal will be to rent more indoor ice time for rec hockey," said Dawson.

The Mites and Rec Squirts have a $50 fee but there is no fundraising.

The WHA will have a 10U and a 12U team this winter but no 14U team, so those girls will go into the high-schools JV program.

Jim Anderson, who heads the Rec program, has now worked with youth hockey for decades and through several approaches to teaching young players. He excited by the energy starting the new season and a spirit of cooperation.

"Everyone is pulling in the same direction," Anderson told me.

Dawson said many people are putting in a lot of hours to make hockey available and fun at each age-level, for both boys and girls, regardless of family income.

He points out the leadership provided by boys varsity coach Dan Tollefson, WHA president Kip Oveson and rec program director Anderson, plus Madsen and his assistant, Lynette Christianson, at the Civic Center.

Minnick signs with Bison

Emily Minnick signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play volleyball at North Dakota State, a NCAA Division I program that played non-conference against Big 10 teams Michigan and Wisconsin this fall.

Minnick is a two-time Tribune All-Area First-Team selection. This season the 6-foot-1 middle hitter served 93-percent clip and supplied 67 ace blocks. Her 385 kills, which is 4.7 per game, is the second most in a single season in the Cardinals record book.

She ranks fourth in career blocks (209) and third in Kills (851).

She earned All-Central Lakes Conference designation twice under former head coach Terrin DeBoer and once again this season playing for Traci Grussing.

"Emily is a tremendous hitter," commented Grussing. "She is fast and she hits hard which makes her difficult to stop. She is also very good at placing the ball. Add a good serve, good block and good leadership and she is a great player."

She received a full ride. She gave considered to Southwest Minnesota State University, the top-rated team in Division II.

The Bison play in the Summit League which as teams in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas City and Michigan, as well as the University of South Dakota.

The Bison (12-16) have three non-conference matches left, which will be the last for another Tribune Area standout, Megan Lambertson of Litchfield, a Summit First-Team selection both as a sophomore and as a junior with selections for 2012 yet to be announced..

Bike Wheels for Kids

The Wheels for Kids project has received $10,000 from the Willmar Kiwanis Peanut Drive and will be using it to match kids with bikes. The hope is to be a part of a larger effort to increase and improve bicycling opportunities in the area. On Monday, from 5 to 7 p.m., Wheels for Kids will be at the Winter Fitness Expo at the Community Center on U.S. 71/23 North to spread interest and enlist volunteers for the effort. The Willmar Nordic Ski Club has its annual spaghetti fundraising dinner at the Expo. Dinner tickets are adults $7, students $5, family $20.

Turkey day showdown

The Glacial Lakes Championship Running Series runs longer than the NASCAR season but will wrap up Thanksgiving Day with a 5k run from the YMCA (8 a.m. start).

Series director Dan Hubbard pointed out to me that several age-group divisions are still in doubt.

Men's 15-19: Cardinals junior Tom Siefert is signed up. He and Ridgewater College student Klinton Van Heuveln (see also On the Fly) lead a close race for the division.

In Men's Overall, it's marathoners Steve Lueders and Mick Quinn at the top with Klinton and his father, Kevin, also in the chase. Hubbard Seifert is in the running also.

Jumping to the AARP categories: Wendy Nelson, 59, seldom misses a run of any kind. She's the 55-59 leader with Carmen Clementson and Jan Saunders in a battle for second. In female 60-64, Carol Wood and Vickie Cyr are separated by 10 points. Hubbard states "If Carol does not show for this race, Vicki will move to first place by default (since there's a 5-race minimum.) Carol can win just by showing up and running her normal pace. Vicki is signed up for I believe her first race since a broken ankle this summer."

In Female Overall, Tracy Sik, 42, of Willmar leads the top 10. She is followed by Kristen Woelfel, 36, of Belgrade; Polly Ahrens, 36, of Renville; and Jen Rauk, 38, of Northfield.

Division results will not be finalized until sometime early in December.

On the fly

n Jayne Cole (WHS '10) will run in the NCAA Division III National Championships as a member of the Luther College cross country team at the LaVern Gibson Course in Terre Haute, Ind. On Saturday, 32 teams were selected for the national championship. Cole earned all-region honors (top-35) placing 26th from the field of 187 runners at Northfield (6k, 23:20.6).

n Former KMS wrestler Klint Van Heuveln, Pennock, wrestled six matches against senior college competition on Saturday at Mitchell, S.D. That could add up to 42 minutes but he scored two second-period pins so his time of tussle was 34 minutes plus. The Ridgewater College sophomore 149-pounder went 5-1.

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