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Willmar Notebook: Pitcher makes move to fishing boat

This spring, Tom DeBoer transitioned from playing hardball to coaching softball.

The Raymond Rockets right-handed pitcher from Willmar took over the Litchfield Dragons prep softball team.

"I was surprised how competitive I got and how satisfying it was," he said.

The Dragons didn't win a game. A few games were close, many others were lopsided.

"Toward the end of the season it got tough to keep the girls motivated," said the first-year coach. "But we were a young team with four sophomores and a freshman starting."

With no more town ball, he will be able to indulge other pasttimes, like fishing and golf. And there's two children to keep him busy -- Ellery, 2, and Jake, 1. Wife Terrin is kept busy with her business -- Weddings on First -- and in the fall, coaching the Cardinal volleyball team.

Tom, who has taught algebra at Litchfield for five years, will also transition to a new job.

"I was offered a job to teach math next year in Willmar and have (accepted)," he stated. He'll teach at the Alternative Learning Center at Garfield School, which will reduce the daily commute from 56 miles round-trip to nine blocks one-way.

He's told Willmar activities director Jamie Thompson he'd be interested in a spring coaching spot, either baseball or softball (the head varsity position in softball is posted).

As far as leaving baseball, it seemed like the right time. After a day on the hill, his arm smarted and he'd coped with a sore ankle on his push-off foot since a college injury.

DeBoer has been among the area's top arms the past decade.

He pitched two years for the Cardinal varsity. In 2000, his senior year, Willmar reached the section championship round, but lost to the Mankato East 7-5 on the Cougars' field. The 19 wins that spring is a program record.

He began throwing for the Rails town team in 2001 and went with them to state in 2002. He's been at every state tournament since, either with the Rockets or as a draftee -- twice with Milroy and once with Sacred Heart.

He pitched, mainly relief, for the Augustana Vikings in Sioux Falls, S.D., for four years. He recalls holding the college's record for career appearances until the NCAA expanded schedules.

He figures he's rung over 100 wins the past decade.

"I didn't throw that hard in high school," he said. "So I had to finesse my curve and slider and I became an above-average pitcher. After graduating I filled out and got stronger and started throwing harder and that made the other pitches more effective."

After the injury, an ankle break with ligament damage, he lost some velocity but was still fast enough to be considered a strikeout pitcher.

With his long-time friends and teammates like Doug Runke, Ben Iverson and Ryan Anderson moving away, Tom left the Rails after the 2004 season and joined the Rockets full time in 2005.

Starting with 2004 postseason as a draftee, he has won 44 games throwing for the Rockets. From 2004 to 2008, he logged a 2.54 ERA with 250 strikeouts in 284 innings.

He said he will miss manager Butch Steen and his long-time teammates on the Rockets.

"I feel pretty good the way I went out," he said, "pitching at the state tournament."

He was speaking of the tense, action-packed Class C games at Bird Island last Labor Day weekend. In his final appearance, he pitched seven strong innings, allowing four hits and one run, before moving to the outfield. The Rockets ended up losing in extra innings to the Howard Lake Orphans 4-2, but the good memories will linger.

Dropping 2 sports

Facing budget pressures at the college, golf and club soccer have been dropped from the Ridgewater athletic menu.

College president Doug Allen told me the decision was carefully considered.

"Mostly, we needed to do some paring in the student life budget," he said. "We looked at various scenarios to make budget work in view of ongoing budget concerns. We felt (these cuts) resonated with students. The fact that soccer was a club sport and numbers in golf are low made it easier."

All student fees are directed at student life activities. These include clubs, theater, choir, as well as sports.

According to the president, 75 percent of the salaries associated with student life activities come for the student life budget. The rest is "subsidized" out of the general fund.

Allen emphasized that these reductions and others made at the college are the direct result of a decline in state support for higher education.

In an email, Allen stated: "We are educating roughly 600 more students than we did in 1998, but we are projected to have approximately the same funding from the state (this fiscal year) that we did in 1998."

"We know sports are very strong here," said Allen. "We would like to say there will be no additional cuts, but it's a conversation (that is ongoing) within the conference ... It's not that golf and soccer don't have any value because they do," he said. "We just can't afford them."

Other casualties of the decrease in funding level are the 50-year-old college newspaper and the journalism program. The two-year carpentry school has been curtailed and counseling services reduced.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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