Weather Forecast


Willmar notebook: Broncos showing some kick

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Tarrell McDuffie bolts around the end for a 22-yard gain on the opening play from scrimmage of the West Central Broncos’ 40-11 win Saturday in New London over the Twin City Rhinos.

It seemed unlikely, to me, that a summer collegiate baseball team would succeed here. I also doubted amateur football would draw. Glad I didn’t take bets.

The Stingers are succeeding because there are a lot of folks out there looking to get out of the house on a summer evening to see quality outdoor entertainment (I thought everyone would be at the lake). And Stingers’ management had a plan. They knew exactly how to present the product and follow through with an expert delivery.

Now amateur football (it’s not semi-pro unless someone is handing the players a paycheck which to my knowledge no one has) is making a go of it here. Player/co-owner Steve Peppin reports the following paid attendance for the Broncos’ four home games to date: 341 for season opener at Hodapp, 269 (New London), 346 (Willmar Fest) and 402 at Pederson Field again last Saturday.

Those numbers would be impressive with free admission but more so with gate prices of $8 for adults, $5 for students.

The Broncos offense ignited when defensive back Ben Sletta took over at quarterback from Peppin, whose true position is tight end. Sletta, a 2006 New London-Spicer graduate, was converted from tailback to quarterback his final year of high school.

The running game and solid defense are responsible for a three-game win streak that brings the Broncos’ record to 4-4.

KMS grad Joel Bauman leads the league in rushing with 963 yards and former Ridgewater Warrior Tarrell McDuffie is third with 454 yards. Defensive end Erick Johnson is tied for first in the Midwest Premier League with 13 sacks.

The team is back at New London at 6 p.m. Saturday to play the Twin City Silverbacks, an “extra game” not on the original schedule. The playoffs begin July 13 (6 p.m. at New London) against the 4-4 Midwest Nightmare (Spring Lake Park).

Peppin, who came here to attend college and stayed to open a barbershop, said community support has been a key to launching this second-chance for young men to play the game: “I’m extremely proud of what this team has become. It truly shows that with vision, hard work and dedication that dreams can come true.”

Herzog to Ridge

Cass Herzog, the Willmar Cardinals’ All-Star lineman, will play at Ridgewater College in his home town this fall.

He acknowledged that Nathanial Swoyer was an influence. Swoyer started two years at blocking fullback for the Warriors while studying to be an electrician.

“He pointed out that it’s a lot of fun and you can jump in and play right away,” Herzog said.

Swoyer and now Herzog represented Willmar after their senior year at the high school coaches All-Star game.

Cass played left guard for the North team in Saturday’s game at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud, after five days of practice. “It was a great experience,” he told me over the phone. “We put in about 50 plays in three days. The talent is unbelievable and the kids are football-minded so it came together quickly.”

The South won the 40th annual all-star tilt 24-14. Defensive end Brandon Schmitt (two tackles) of Dawson-Boyd and linebacker Nathan Snider (three tackles) of Minnewaska were also North All-Stars. Schmitt also kicked off. 

Relief for Rails

It’s disheartening to see the once proud Willmar Rails are now are the whipping post of the Cornbelt League.

They are undermanned. Many of the best young ballplayers from the city are playing in nearby communities, especially Spicer.

I can’t blame them; there’s a romance (or nostalgia) playing town-team baseball in these friendly ballparks around the county at Sunburg, Raymond, Atwater, Regal and Spicer, though Green Lake Diamond is closer to a stadium. There’s a visible community spirit along the fences, where fans sit on lawn chairs and pick-up beds and frequent the thriving concession stand for hamburgers and brats.

Other than the need for locker rooms, Willmar has a stadium worthy of the entry-level minor leagues. Even 200 fans would look like a lagging turnout in this thousand-seat theater.

The Rails have struggled for wins since the middle of the past decade when ex-Cardinals began to migrate to the country.

Current player/manager Darin Ditterich, an ex-Cardinal pitcher, said the team desperately needs more pitching. Most teams do, but more so for the Rails.

It will take time to turn the “franchise” around. But all it will take is a few good players to stay home and start the comeback.

The players that show up every game are to be commended and Ditterich, too, for holding the team together in rough times. It’s being part of a team and playing the game that matters.

Oscar makes the call 

Oscar Overcash has been one of the area’s most durable officials whether it’s baseball, softball, football or track. He’ll be 72 on July 17 but the ex-North Carolina State starting linemen (he played on the same teams with NFL quarterback Roman Gabriel) said he, at least, is taking a “redshirt” year.

A nerve condition has robbed him of feeling in both feet. It makes it difficult to move about. He said he can still serve as a starter at track and field meets.

His son Dustin carries on the umpiring tradition. He began officiating VFW games with his dad soon after graduating from Willmar High School in 1997.

No Sonshine for Madsen

Civic Center supervisor Kevin Madsen will miss his first Sonshine Festival in a quarter century. This year’s Christian music festival begins July 17 on the grounds of the Civic Center and in both arenas.

He’s heading off to Fort Wayne, Ind., on July 14, to produce curling ice for the first National Arena Curling Championships held at the Canlan Ice Sports complex. He will be the head ice maker at this event, using his experience as “arena curling ice maker.”

He’ll be assisted by the USA’s head ice maker, Dave Staveteig, who produced the Mixed National Ice here in March, and Quentin Way, head icemaker for the Bemidji Curling Club, and George Phillips, curling ice and curling stone expert from Langdon, N.D.

Twelve women’s teams and 20 men’s teams will compete for the championship representing Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas, California, Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Minnesota will be represented by the Dakota Club out of Burnsville and the Viking Club out of Alexandria.

On the fly

n Local insurance man Norm Strehlow is known for playing highly-competitive golf at Eagle Creek, especially in senior events. But he’s also a sure-shot on the pool circuit. Late in May, he won $1,400 at the Valley National 8-Ball Association tournament in Las Vegas. He placed third in Senior Single 9-ball and fourth in Senior Single 8-Ball. He estimated a “couple hundred” entrants in each division.

n Next on the foot racing calendar is the Green Lake Road Race on Sunday (7 a.m. start). Winning times last year were, compared to most years, on the slow side for the 12-mile loop: 1:15.28 for men (John Curley, 19, Windom) and 1:28.20 for women (Kathy Stalnaker, 20, Clara City).

n Willmar Cardinal football attended the Bison football camp June 14-17 at Fargo. Coach Jon Konald, starting his fifth season here, took up 61 9-12-graders for the full-contact clinic. It looks like this will be a young team but Koenig likes the team speed.

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. 
(320) 214-4334