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BEA softball honored

By Staff | Aug 14, 2016

Softball players racked up plenty of hits and plenty of wins across summer leagues around Blue Earth in recent months, but thanks to Minnesota nonprofit Youth 1st, they are being recognized for racking up plenty of good sportsmanship, too.

In partnership with the Minnesota Twins Community Fund, Youth 1st, of Owatonna, is dedicated to honoring positive behavior in sports.

And three different age groups from Blue Earth’s competition in the Southern Star Softball League were targeted for their efforts, earning Youth 1st’s Team Awards at a Thursday night ceremony at the 4-H?Building.

“This all started with all teams playing in the league tournament,”?says Paul Smith, president of BEA’s Fastpitch Association. “All coaches, players and fans were being watched by umpires, concession stand workers … and they had to give grades on how well the teams’ sportsmanship was.”

Those grades, Smith says, were sent to Youth 1st, which seeks out teams who get high grades for their on- and off-field behavior.

“And as fate would have it,”?Smith says, “three Blue Earth teams won this award, which is awesome, as we preach sportsmanship as the most important thing.”

Two 10U teams, Maroon and Gold coached by Rachel Green and Tom Green and Michelle Klinkner and Dave Klabunde joined Blue Earth’s 12U squad, coached by Angie Nagel and Chad Johnson, and the 14U team, led by Smith and Bob Dulas, as the local honorees.

“We all have a great passion for softball,” Smith said, “and we want these girls to succeed on and off the field, which is why I?think we had great success in games and in the sportsmanship category.”

That is the type of mentality that Youth 1st pursues, according to the organization’s director, Mark Arjes.

“It places the emphasis on how you play the game, which is ultimately more important than if you win or lose,”?he said. “It has become increasingly difficult to get coaches and officials for youth sports because of the abuse that they take during games. We believe it is time to model and encourage values-based actions” for what Youth 1st calls a “Conduct 1st”?environment.

Presented with team plaques and an opportunity to join a pregame parade at Target Field before a September Twins game, the Blue Earth softball teams take pride in knowing they not only served as a summer outlet for countless youth athletes but also represented model sportsmanship in the process.

“We play in a small town, and sometimes sports in a small town bring people together,”?Smith said. “I?feel it does with summer softball, and if you don’t respect your opponent and umpires … that will put a black mark on your team and your organization and that only affects you negatively.”

That is why, Smith added, everyone from the volunteers who help fuel Fastpitch Association’s oversight of game scheduling to the very players who fill out tournament rosters have a role in conveying positive sportsmanship.

“I think we are one big family,”?he said, “and we all get along and respect each other, which is why I think we won these awards. These girls are respectful, just as their parents are, and that goes a long way in life.”