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Willmar notebook: Pride in boosting all sports

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Until this season, the Cardinals softball team played on the high school's southwest field with a temporary outfield fence. A $3,000 donation from Cardinal Pride helped finance a permanent outfield fence with red capping on the north field, the new home field. The photo shows centerfielder Lindsay Atchison setting up for a catch in an April 25 game with Rocori.1 / 2
Photo by Tom Violand Laura Dunlavy (WHS '10) competes for the South Dakota State Western Equestrian Team in a meet at Texas Christian University this spring. The host team provides the horses meaning the visiting riders must learn the nuances of a new mount in a brief five-minute warm-up. Laura also rode for the Jackrabbits at the NCAA Championships at Waco, Texas, in mid-April. She won her point while riding against a Kansas State rider with All-American credentials but SDSU lost 6-2 and failed to adv...2 / 2

Cardinal Pride held its annual Red and White meeting Monday evening on the upper floor of the Pioneerland Library. I was able to attend, perhaps on your behalf, between ballgames and telephone calls.

I took a seat next to Allan Backlund, Class of 1946 and 2004 Hall of Fame inductee. Next to Allan sat Vonnie Nelson (WHS '53) and the widow of Roy Nelson (WHS '54), honored by the HOF in the Class of '05.

Dr. Mary Amon, Cardinal Pride board president, read from a handout listing 30 donations to Willmar schools since 2009.

Here are selected highlights: $2,000 for weight-room equipment, $2,000 for wrestling mats at middle and senior high schools, $4,475 for senior high pool scoreboard, $1,380 for pep band drum, $3,000 for softball fence, $2,475 for soccer shed and field equipment, $2,500 for football equipment, $500 for Nordic ski uniforms. This year a major layout of $3,000 is slated for middle school football helmets.

Where does the cash come from to finance these purchases?

According to treasurer Chris Woltjer, the 2011 Cardinal Pride golf outing cleared nearly $1,900, ad revenue for the Card Pride seasonal sports program generated $12,900, membership over $4,000 and donations to the endowment fund about $4,700.

The 13-year old school-wide booster group lists assets at $49,441 with just over $25,000 in the endowment fund.

Wrestling coaches Justin Brown and Ed Oehlers stood up to talk about the importance of Cardinal Pride to their program. And so did girls soccer coach Chelsea Brown, noting the turnout is enough to stock two JV teams plus the varsity.

Activities director Jamie Thompson stressed that athletics, clubs and activities are an extension of the school day.

"With all the budget cuts the past five years we couldn't do it without you," he told the CP board members.

The golf outing this year is June 15 on Father's Day weekend at Eagle Creek GC. It's been renamed the Willmar Cardinal Open to broaden its appeal. Formerly this was the Dean Anderson/Lane Erickson Memorial scramble but has been renamed with the blessing of the families of the deceased graduates from the class of '58 and '65, respectively.

An effort is being made to attract participants from the various sports booster clubs. Foursomes representing a booster club, such as the Takedown Club, will be eligible for $250 drawings in the Booster Club Challenge.

Chairman of the golf outing Bill Fenske said there were 13 foursomes last year with a goal of 18 to 20 this June and even more in the future. To register contact

The 2012 HOF induction is Sept. 28 at American Legion Post 167. The homecoming game that evening is with Alexandria. Nominations for the 13th HOF class closed Monday.

New board member Ken Heitzman, a teacher and coach here for 26 years, was introduced; he commented on the key role Cardinal Pride has played in financing the purchase of equipment for the Strength and Conditioning program. Also coming on the board is Gabe Klaassen (WHS '97, basketball, baseball), who works for the railroad.

Retiring are Dewey Bock, a teacher/coach for 36 years, after serving the maximum two consecutive terms and Sally Kerfeld, the CP secretary, after a three-year term.

Dr. Amon reminded us that the purpose of Cardinal Pride is to "support, encourage and enhance" sports opportunities for all students to the end of making "better citizens."

Backlund, who went from playing center/linebacker to the football chain gang and hoops scorekeeper for several decades, won the prize goody bag for the being the earliest (i.e., oldest) Willmar graduate in attendance.

Allan made it clear how dear the organization has become to alumni, like Harlan Brogren from the Class of '50 and a first-year HOF inductee.

"Harlan gives his regards to the board of directors from North Carolina and thinks he might make it up for banquet in September."

Barta rebuilds again

Joel Barta who left Ridgewater after three seasons to become head baseball coach of University of Mary, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NCAA Division II) in Bismarck, N.D., has another building job ahead.

His first team is 9-35 (8-22 NSIC) with a half-dozen games left. But this plays right to Barta's wheel house. He turned around small-college programs in northern Wisconsin and southern Texas before coming to Ridgewater where he started with a nearly all-freshman team that became an MCAC contender by year two.

Early call proves right by evening

Though early morning radio reports forecast late evening storms moving on a line from Granite Falls through Willmar into St. Cloud, the weather seemed just dandy on Tuesday.

So it came as a surprise when Central Lakes doubleheaders at Willmar (baseball) and Alexandria (softball) were postponed in an email announcement sent out before noon.

These decision made by activities directors aren't done lightly in an overcrowded spring schedule. Willmar activities director Jamie Thompson and Alex A.D. Dr. David Hartmann (a Paynesville native) collaborated on what at the time seemed a dubious postponement.

"We really had to try and predict what would happen later in the day," explained Thompson on Wednesday morning. "That's never an easy decision. When it was sunny at 4 p.m., I was questioning our decision a bit, but when the storm rolled in [on schedule] at about 5:45 it definitely seemed like the right call.

"Our decision-making really boils down to two things: (1) Keeping our athletes safe is always our number one; (2) I don't believe it's fiscally responsible to gamble when the weather looks questionable. If we send a bus to Alexandria and then we have to turn around and come back without finishing the game(s), and then have to go back a week later that just doesn't feel right.

"Also, the bus company that Alexandria uses requires them to cancel the trip no later than one hour prior to the bus departure. Working backwards, when the doubleheader starts at 4 p.m. warm-ups start at 3, the team arrives at 2:30 and that means Alexandria leaves at 1:15. The "call" for them really needs to occur by 12:15 or they get charged full price for the trip even if they don't go."

The storm hit especially hard in Pope and southern Stearns counties, forcing other postponements and several suspensions.

In an email, Hartmann stated on Wednesday: "We had a lot of rain overnight and the fields were underwater. With the predictions of tornados we didn't want to take a chance having someone in route or at a field with no cover. These decision are always difficult, but sending a bus and no game is to costly to gamble on. We have to notify our transportation departments early or we have cancellation fee."

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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