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Summer rewards for winter agony

This is the anti-winter -- the payback for scraping windshields and endless days of gray.

Minnesotans don't take summer for granted. It's a three-month celebration.

The single biggest event in the city, and the county, is the Foot Lake 4k Run/Walk, this year on June 27. The run is in the middle of Willmar Fest with an early Saturday morning launch followed by a free Firemen's Pancake Feed. It's the closest the town comes to a true Homecoming as college students and the native-born return to tramp around lower Foot Lake.

It's the 15th year for the four-miler. Rice Hospital, at the start/finish, got involved in 1995 to revive the defunct Kaffe Fest Run. The vigorous promotion pulls in 500 to 600 entrants, if walkers are included.

The original summer run is 40 years old. Corby Newman, a retired teacher and cross-country coach, helped organize that first competition which started at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds. He's been the starter at every Foot Lake 4.

Slowpitch garden

Making a reappearance on Willmar Fest weekend is a men's slowpitch tournament.

Willmar Community Education and Recreation is putting it together. There's a prize at stake. The winner of the USSSA Slowpitch Tournament will receive a paid berth in the USSSA (Division) E World Tournament in Orlando, Fla. Cash prizes go to the top four teams.

The entry fee is $130, plus $20 for USSSA sanctioning.

Uncommon but not unique for a city event, the Council has granted a temporary beer permit. According to the tournament flyer, a Beer Garden will operate from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday (June 27).

Tennis opens

Chad Schmiesing, a teacher and coach at New London-Spicer, is bringing back the Cardinal Classic Tennis Tournament based at Willmar Senior High School June 12-14.

The Rice Classic, which is responsible for the building of the new shelter at the courts, comes up for its three-day run starting July 31.

Other summer tournaments are at Benson, New London and Litchfield. It's a tournament trail that can greatly benefit junior and senior high school girls to prepare for the fall campaign.

Soccer for kids

Willmar CER annually coordinates the visiting British Soccer Camp, now held at the Roosevelt Soccer Fields. It's high-end coaching by young men from England who grew up with the game. They teach technique but at the field there's an emphasis on having a good time.

This year's camp runs June 15-19 for ages 4-14 in three divisions. Flyers are available at the WCER office on West Willmar Avenue or phone 231-8490.

Willmar traveling soccer, which is sponsored by the soccer association, plays a competitive schedule. Among those who will be helping the players improve their game will be Chelsey Wierschem, a three-time all-conference goalie at Willmar.

Softball surge

Girls softball continues to grow in popularity.

The Willmar-based early youth leagues include teams from New London, Atwater and Belgrade.

WCER uses the three fields at the high school for games. Rob Baumgarn, rec supervisor, said there are 10 team at the 3-4th grade level and 14 at the 5-6th grade.

The 7-8th grade league has 10 teams and 9-10th will have six teams.

The softball program also includes games with Paynesville, Eden Valley and the program in Danube-Renville-Sacred Heart. Marshall also participates but the long trip pleases no one, Baumgarn said.

Willmar is the hub and the city teams won't travel much, except during the week of the Sonshine Festival July 15-18, held at the school fields and Civic Center.

Baseball gaining

The youth baseball program is still recovering from the traveling baseball program which drained it in the 1990s.

Numbers are up slightly.

The WCER operates the 11-team West Central Baseball Conference for 7-9th graders. The league ranges from Montevideo and MACCRAY to Dassel, from Glenwood to Bird Island.

The seventh graders have their own league. Baumgarn hopes to see at least 15 on the Willmar 7th-grade team, though the sign-ups aren't there yet.

The lower grades, 3-4th grade and 5-6th grade, also play in a league with surrounding communities. WCER acts as the "athletic director" finding fields and umpires, much as it does for youth tackle football.

The youngest group practices Monday night with games on Tuesday and Thursday. That leaves open Wednesday and Friday, plus weekends, for families wishing to participate in the Willmar Baseball/Softball Booster traveling team program.

The WCER baseball program refers to the grade now ending and the season runs from June 11 to mid-July. The cost is $50 to $55, plus a $30 jersey deposit.

2 to state

Senior Shelby Morton and junior Mary Erickson are the only Cardinals to reach state this spring, in any sport.

Morton, in high jump, qualified at 5-foot-2. There are 11 girls in front of her from 5-3 to 5-6. The top nine will medal.

Erickson is seeded in the first flight with the 12th best throw at 114-10 going in. The top peg in section qualifying was 148-5. She'll likely need a throw of at least 120 for a chance to medal.

On the fly

n Rob Esse, who runs t he gymnastics academy (Willmar Wings) with his wife Tammy, gets his thrills on the Grove Creek Dragstrip. He continues to race his shinny 1974 Vega in the Super Quick Division. The couple's son, Ryan, also races in a '83 Camero. Both had high finishes over the weekend.

n It's been nearly impossible to beat the Minneapolis Community and Technical College men's basketball team over the years. It's been a program that has attracted top inter-city talent. Some were getting a second chance to succeed after failing academically at a senior college. But the Warriors won't have to worry about the Marauders anymore. Unfortunately, the program has been voted out by a student committee at the junior college on Hennepin Avenue. Jim Souhan, StarTribune columnist, questioned the wisdom of allowing students who are just passing through to dismantle a program that "improves the lives and prospects of kids who might not otherwise find a reputable avenue to success."