Small town Cushing, a hot draw in men’s fastpitch

Written by Bob on May 28th, 2015
The Dugout team honored their teammate, the late Pete Kelly, during the 12th Annual Dugout Memorial Weekend Tournament in Cushing, Wisconsin. Courtesy Photo

The Dugout team honored their teammate, the late Pete Kelly, during the 12th Annual Dugout Memorial Weekend Tournament in Cushing, Wisconsin. Courtesy Photo

CUSHING, Wisc. – Wisconsin is dotted with many rural, small towns surrounded by farm fields, forests and pastures. One such small town located in this idyllic setting in the northwest part of the state is Cushing.

Cushing folks, numbering about 100 to 150, have quite a few outdoor activities to choose from: they can hike, they can camp, they can boat, and they can hunt and fish.

And for the more competitively inclined, they can play men’s fastpitch softball.

Cushing might be small in population, but it’s big in softball, with no less than four teams – Dugout Bar and Grill, Suzy Q’s, the Tigers, and the Heat – playing fastpitch.

    LONEY AND DIETMEIER KEEP THE TRADITION GOING

And for over 20 years, Cushing has drawn teams from near and far for its Memorial weekend tournament. The past 12 years Dugout has hosted the tournament, led by tournament directors Steve Loney and Les Dietmeier.

This year’s tourney – the 12th Annual Dugout Memorial Weekend Tournament – drew nine teams from Wisconsin and Minnesota, with Tin Cup of St. Paul, Minnesota taking the title over instate-rival Ostrander.

So how has Cushing preserved its fastpitch roots, while the sport fades away in many larger towns and cities throughout the country?

“We all grew up playing fastpitch, or the younger kids dad’s played, or they are still playing,” said Dietmeier, who plays for Dugout.

Dietmeier also credits an earlier era that had a junior fastpitch league and 4-H softball instilling a love for the sport among Cushing’s youth. But those programs are long gone.

Now he concedes that even as popular as men’s fastpitch remains in Cushing among the devoted, he’s starting to see a decline in numbers. And it all comes down to manning the circle; toeing the rubber.

“We can’t get the young kids to pitch,” he said.

    MORE TEAMS WANTED

But on the positive side, the sport is holding on in Cushing and in many small towns and cities in Wisconsin. And he along with Loney, remain upbeat that the Dugout tournament can even grow in the future. Both men are pushing to expand the event to 12 to 16 teams.

And from what he’s seen this year, his hopes just might be realized.

“This tournament was the best one yet in terms of quality teams,” he said, “and the pitching was outstanding.”

    WHO’S WHO OF PITCHERS

Dietmeier rattles off some big name pitchers who showed off their risers and drops, change-ups and curves to a good turnout of fans over the weekend.

“We had Kevin Kammueller and Michael Jamieson with Ostrander and Joel Cooley with Tin Cup,” he said. “And Bryan Lathrop and Jason Yetterness (pitched) for Rice Lake (Wisc.).”

But the local teams also showcased some strong arms in the likes of Ryan Byl for Dugout; Cullen Hanson of the Tigers; Grady Wold and Dan Duchane with the Strikers; and Steve Johnson and Trent Peterson hurling for Suzy Q’s.

So what makes Cushing a strong draw among fastpitch teams and fans?

    CUSHING SCORES HIGH PRAISE

“It was very competitive, one through nine,” said Richard Quigley of Minnesota, a manager, player and fan who took in the tournament. “It was the best caliber I’ve seen in my three years coming here. The crowds were very good, and Les and Steve do a great job running it.”

“Our Bon Ton team (Luck, Wisc.) thought the tourney was as well run as any in our area,” said Eugene Johnson. “It’s a great job every year by Dugout.”

“Cushing for the most part has had great interest in the sport,” said Steve Johnson of Suzy Q’s. “It’s centralized to draw players from both north and south of the area. The small town feel and the pleasant nature of the individuals around the area draws me to drive 45 minutes to a home game…”

    HONORING PETE KELLY

The tournament went well this year, but it did have its poignant moments. Dugout lost teammate Pete Kelly, who died in April. The team honored their centerfielder with several tributes throughout the weekend.

For an entire game, the team wore T-shirts with Kelly’s number 21 on the front, and they played without a centerfielder and leadoff hitter.

“We took the out when it was Pete’s turn at bat and hung a banner in centerfield with his number 21 on it,” Dietmeier said. “It will hang all year in centerfield.”

    THEY KEEP COMING BACK

The tournament’s over and the teams have all gone back home. But Dietmeier believes many will return to help carry on Cushing’s reputation as a small town hotspot in men’s fastpitch.

“Most of the teams that come here just love it,” he said. “And the new teams are surprised how well it is run and played. Once they come here, they want to keep coming back.”

    2015 Dugout Memorial Tournament standings

1. Tin Cup, St. Paul, Minn.
2. Ostrander, Ostrander, Minn.
3. Rice Lake Orangemen, Rice Lake, Wisc.
4. Dugout Bar and Grill, Cushing
5. Strikers, Baldwin, Wisc.
6. Suzy Q’s, Cushing
7. Tigers, Cushing
8. Bon Ton, Luck, Wisc.
9. Heat, Cushing

6 Comments so far ↓

  1. Les Dietmeier says:

    Sorry to burst your bubble Bob but cushing has maybe 100-150 people in town not 700

  2. Bob says:

    I got those numbers from a search of the town on the Internet. Thanks for correcting. I’ll change the numbers in the story.

  3. Jim Brackin says:

    yeh!! for the young bucks! Thanks for keeping the game alive! Fastpitch softball was the best thing that ever happened for me ….. uhh, yes dear, except for you. 🙂

  4. Bob says:

    Some say fast pitch isn’t for the younger generations today. Well, maybe that’s true for some, but for others they play the game with the same enthusiasm and dedication as any of the preceding generations. And these young bucks don’t have the advantage that I and many others had from the 1960s to late ’80s in being able to drive in any direction close to home and play in weeknight leagues and tournaments.

  5. Les Dietmeier says:

    Thanks bob for the article, I hope it brings more attention to our tournament and to fastpitch in general, it is harder for the younger group to get involved like you say there is not as many teams to join. In the 70’s and 80’s there used to be 3 leagues in this area to play in and now there is just one left

  6. Bob says:

    You are welcome Les. You guys do a great job with the sport in your corner of the world. Grass roots fastpitch at its best.

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