Roosevelt teachers defeat Willmar Stingers in annual kickball game
WILLMAR — For the third year running, Roosevelt Elementary teachers have defeated the Willmar Stingers baseball team in their annual kickball game.
As usual, the 5-3 win came courtesy of a few possibly questionable calls and a little damage to the young baseball players' dignity.
Since the Northwoods League brought the Stingers to town in 2010, the kickball game on the last day of school has become a tradition.
The school is close enough to be an easy walk to Bill Taunton Stadium, so the game is played on the Stingers' home field. In the early years, the Stingers usually won, but the tide turned a few years ago.
Longtime Roosevelt team manager Lee Gauer may have had something to do with that. Through the years, he's been known to visit the Stingers dugout to plead for mercy.
Before the game, some Stingers players danced on the field to "Cha Cha Slide." Stomping on the metal bleachers was popular with the kids.
During the game, the Stingers willingly used a variety of props to give the teachers an edge.
They used stilts to try to get to first base, but they had trouble getting more than a few feet away from home plate.
In one inning, some wore blindfolds and others wore exercise bands around their ankles. A ball rolled through the legs of the shortstop, who was blindfolded. "It almost looked like the shortstop didn't see that one," the announcer said.
After the game, a tug-of-war was organized between the teams. The teachers called their colleagues from the stands, adding more than a dozen additional people to their team.
In a best-of-three match, the Stingers twice pulled the teachers across the line fairly easily. The teachers "won" one pull when the Stingers just dropped the rope all at once, dropping the teachers like dominos.
Al Leyva, an assistant Stingers coach, stood along the third baseline smiling and watching his team. He'd never participated in that type of game, he said.
His only pep talk to the players before the game — "Don't get hurt; it's a long season."
The kickball game and other events in the community are good for the area and for the players, Leyva said. People in the community get to know the nice young men in their town for the summer, and players get a chance to see what their presence means to the people they meet, especially kids.
"This is super fun," said Stingers pitcher Jake Drew between innings. "I didn't expect the stands to be packed." Drew is from Alexandria.
Students leaving the game listed their favorite things — "that the teachers won," "that the Stingers did dances," and "that the teachers lost (the tug-of-war)."
After the game, Gauer said, "Amazing things are happening at Roosevelt now that we're beating the Stingers."
Gauer is retiring this year. "I'm going to miss it tremendously," he said, both the students and his colleagues. He's taught fourth grade for 30 years, he said, and he's proud he helped shape so many young lives.