Youth ball players to lead Hamel Rodeo parade

Tyler Schmidt of Plymouth practices his bunting skills in one of the new batting cages at Hamel Legion Park. His father Andy supplies live pitching. (Sun staff photo by Susan Van Cleaf)

Tyler Schmidt of Plymouth practices his bunting skills in one of the new batting cages at Hamel Legion Park. His father Andy supplies live pitching. (Sun staff photo by Susan Van Cleaf)

Hamel Athletic Club (HAC) members might yell “Batters Up!” as the Hamel Rodeo Parade steps off at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 14, from Hunter Lions Park in uptown Hamel.

It would be a little like the traditional “Riders Up!” call that sends horses and riders to the gates at the Kentucky Derby.

The uptown Hamel community has chosen HAC to serve as Grand Marshals of the parade that for many years has put a finishing touch on Hamel Rodeo week. This year events begin Thursday, July 11 and end on July 14. Rodeo performances will be at Corcoran Lions Park, located at County Roads 10 and 101, and rodeo related events, such as dances and the parade, will spill over to the Hamel area.

Hamel Road and Hunter Drive will be closed to traffic starting at 1:30 p.m. on July 14 to make way for the parade. The festive caravan will travel north on Hunter Drive from Hunter Park, swing east on Hamel Road and then turn south onto Brockton Lane, ending at the Hamel ball fields.

Community residents and businesses are invited to walk or ride in the parade. However, parents must accompany children. Sign up for the parade by visiting the website at uptownhamel.com.

Claire DesLauriers, parade committee member, talked about why the group chose the Hamel Athletic Club to serve as parade Grand Marshals. She had noticed that HAC has been around for a long time (since 1926). Lately HAC’s improvements to its ball fields and programs have attracted many visitors to Hamel Legion Park and Hamel.

HAC President Eddie Leuthner said kids in baseball uniforms would be the centerpiece of the Grand Marshal contingent, because HAC’s program is all about kids having fun and learning about baseball. He asked parents to contact him about kids walking in the parade and offering volunteer help. Contact him via e-mail at president@hamelbaseball.com. He said plenty of adults would be on hand to corral and supervise kids marching in the parade.

Leuthner said adult town ball teams originally had been a big part of Hamel baseball. That was “awesome.” Now “it’s about kids” exercising, having fun and learning to play the game.

He remembers playing T-ball in the ‘70s on a field situated where the Hamel Community Building now stands. Hamel ball was played on two little fields, a big field and a softball field.

“The whole place has changed,” he said. “It’s pretty neat.” And baseball has had a lot to do with it.

Hamel Legion Park now has the Community Building, sliding hill, ice skating rink, playground and a huge baseball complex, consisting of six baseball fields, a grass field and a field house and concession stand.

A visit to Legion Park on a Wednesday evening revealed a full parking lot, coaches leading team practices and Hamel squaring off against Wayzata in a league game. As players fouled baseballs over fences, multiple voices yelled, “Heads up!”

Hamel youth baseball got a big boost in 2008 when HAC became affiliated with Little League International, the largest nonprofit organization in the world, Leuthner said. HAC’s program was serving around 300 youth and now over 500 kids are participating. HAC serves kids in Medina and the Wayzata School District.

Kids can start out with Tee Ball at ages four to five and move up to travel teams for 13-year-olds. When there is demand, HAC can offer travel teams for 14-, 15- and 16 year-olds.

HAC also brings in instructors and offers winter clinics in a dome located in Maple Grove. This year’s long winter presented challenges for HAC in getting kids ready to play, Leuthner said.

Upgrades to facilities at Hamel Legion Park have helped HAC bring baseball to kids. A few years ago HAC and the city of Medina landed a Hennepin Youth Sports grant that helped pay for construction of the new field house and concession stand. St. Anne’s Church, located in Hamel, has been operating the concession stand.

Lately, HAC has added two lighted scoreboards, irrigation and sodding of three fields, windscreens around ball fields and two batting cages. Area businesses can serve as sponsors and have advertising signs in prominent spots. HAC maintains the fields and does field cleanup while the city of Medina provides lawn-mowing services.

HAC also is one of five community groups that supplies volunteer power for the Hamel Rodeo.

“We have grown a nice program,” Leuthner said. “We have gotten a lot of compliments from parents.”

And he is thankful for the help of lots of volunteers and money contributed by parents.

“We couldn’t do it without parents and kids contributing to the program,” he said. “Everything we take in, we put back into the community and the park. Our goal is to keep the money in Medina.”

He added, “It is a great honor to serve as parade Grand Marshals. It has been an honor to participate in the parade from Day One.”

 

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at susan.vancleaf@ecm-inc.com

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