BASEBALL NOTEBOOK -- Volunteers come to field's rescue at Kenyon-Wanamingo

By Donny Henn

School budgets are tight all over, and it's no different at Kenyon-Wanamingo. But fiscal restraint within the K-W district didn't stop the two neighboring communities from improving their high school baseball field.

Thanks to a grass-roots effort to resurrect 70-year-old Memorial Field on Third Avenue in Wanamingo, Kenyon-Wanamingo now has one of the nicest high school baseball facilities in southeast Minnesota.

The K-W baseball team played in Kenyon until the new high school was built four years ago. Wanamingo has been the home field ever since.


The improvements to Memorial Field include new poured-cement dugouts, an 8-foot chain-link fence all around the outfield (extending to a 12-foot fence in right), two bullpen mounds, new bleachers, a public address system and an electronic scoreboard.

That's on top of extensive landscaping around the periphery, including a large retaining wall.

"The great story is that it's all been done through volunteer efforts and fund-raising; the school couldn't put a lot of money into it," explained K-W baseball coach Randy Hockinson.

Hockinson said that Wanamingo resident Larry Van De Walker and American Legion coach Jack Holmes coordinated the effort, which began 1 1/2 years ago.

The city of Wanamingo put in water and sewer lines, the school district paid for the bleachers, and Coca-Cola donated the scoreboard. Nearly all of the skilled and unskilled labor and technical expertise was donated by 52 businesses and organizations in Kenyon and Wanamingo.

Van De Walker said that he asked the city's baseball coaches what features they liked about other area fields, and then he visited many of them for ideas, including Cannon Falls, Pine Island and Lake City.

The biggest part of the project involved adding fill to raise home plate about 17 inches; it used to slope severely from second base. The entire infield was bull-dozed and leveled.

"We've had spaghetti feeds, and the local Lions Club and VFW and American Legion have put on pancake feeds and bingo fund-raisers, and Boy Scout troops have helped out," said Van De Walker. "We understood that the school didn't have much money for this; my wife is on the school board, so we understood that very well."


The Van De Walkers have a junior son, Kirby, on the K-W baseball team, and a freshman daughter, Callie, on the softball team. "The softball field is next," Van De Walker said.

"Baseball is the best game there is, and we always had good fields when I was growing up (in Mazeppa)," Van De Walker said. "We need to get that tradition going again."

Other fields that have also been upgraded since last season include Byron, where a grass infield was added, and at Kasson-Mantorville, which is sporting an impressive new scoreboard.

At Byron, a 10-area sprinkler system was added last year to help nurse the new infield grass. Byron coach Dave Anderson said the improvements at his field will continue this year with new dugouts and a cement slab under the batting cage tunnel slated for August.

"It looks like a field now; we think our mound is the best in the area," Anderson said. The Byron field has been in existence since 1967.

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