Ronn Kopp, a driving force in Rice Lake boy’s and men’s fastpitch

Written by Bob on June 11th, 2009

By Bob Otto / Freelance Writer

RICE LAKE, WI – Six decades ago Ronn Kopp stood behind the backstop at a softball diamond mesmerized as a softball was whipped underhand toward home plate. He was hooked. And Kopp is still hooked on the fastpitch game that he’s devoted so much of his life to.

“I was five or six years old and went to the ballpark and I’ve just kept hanging around,” he said. “Back then every neighborhood had a team. The crowds filled the bleachers and it was standing room around the fences.”

It’s not quite that way in Rice Lake anymore, yet this little town of 8,320 in northwest Wisconsin, just might be one of the remaining hot spots for men and boy’s fastpitch in the country.

Rice Lake’s Tate Park is busy four nights a week with men and boys fastpitch. The city boasts 12 men’s teams and four boy’s teams. And that’s not to speak of the 10 to 12 women’s fastpitch teams who also call Tate Park home.

And much of the success of Rice Lake fastpitch points directly to Kopp. The 64-year-old is the city’s Director of Park, Recreation, and Cemetery Department – a position he’s held for 34 years. And as a fan, former player, and as recreation director, fastpitch is near the top of his agenda.

“He is really involved,” said Bill Matheny, who has served as vice president of the boy’s league for 15 years, and three years as president. “He starts talking softball in January and doesn’t stop until October. Ronn’s a softball guy. He loves fastpitch and is very dedicated.”

Kopp especially has an iron clad dedication to the boy’s program: The Rice Lake – Cameron Boy’s Fastpitch League where he serves as the secretary-treasurer. The league started in 1958 as a church sponsored league and grew to 18 teams in the mid-1990s.

Kopp entered the program as an assistant coach in 1960 and has been coaching ever since, celebrating his 50th anniversary with the league this year. “I got involved as an assistant coach and took over the team when the head coach quit,” Kopp said. “I’ve been with it since then.”

The boy’s program has had tremendous success at the state, national, and international levels claiming four ASA national championships – two each in the 12-Under and 18-Under divisions. And in 1985 the 18-Under team represented the U.S. in the International Softball Federation (ISF) Junior World Championships.

“We were the silver medalists to New Zealand,” Kopp said. “They had Mark Sorenson and Jimmy Seaman on that team.”

Mention Rice Lake in the world of boy’s fastpitch, and the name is readily recognized. Rice Lake boy’s teams have played in ASA, ISC, and NAFA national tournaments throughout the country and in Canada.

Michael Matheny, now 23, and Bill Matheny’s son started playing in the league in fifth grade. And at the local high school he played baseball, football, and basketball.

“Playing fastpitch helped my reaction time fielding because it’s a much quicker game than baseball,” Matheny said. “You have to move quicker in fastpitch; everything speeds up, so that helped develop my reaction time.”

And his favorite sport? On a 10 scale, Matheny said, “baseball and basketball are an eight; football a five, and fastpitch a ten. I’d rather play fastpitch than any of the sports.”

But for Kopp, his involvement with fastpitch doesn’t stop with the Rice Lake Boy’s League. Not by a long shot. In 1973 the men’s league folded. So Kopp along with Bruce Ashlin formed a team called the Rice Lake Orangemen in 1979 and the team has been in existence ever since.

By starting the Orangemen, older players came out of retirement and the league was revived in 1979. Now the league plays two nights a week with a strong 12 teams taking part.

But without the boy’s program, would the men’s league be nearly as strong? No said Ron Sloan, who manages the Larson Collision team.

“Our men’s teams would eventually die out without the boy’s league,” he said. “It’s critical for us to have the boy’s program to bring in new players as the older players phase out. We are proud to have 12 men’s teams in this little town of ours and that’s because of our boy’s (program) and our volunteers like Ronn Kopp. He has been instrumental in the boy’s league and in starting the men’s league.”

Okay, so now we have Kopp involved in both the boy’s and men’s leagues. Did he have enough on his fastpitch plate? No, there was room for more – much more.

Wisconsin has become one of the top states in the country in the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA), which hosts the largest men’s national tournament in the world. And Kopp is the Wisconsin state director and NAFA’s national president.

“In 1993 we met with NAFA officials and they gave us an introduction to the association,” Kopp said. He liked that NAFA catered only to fastpitch saying, “I wanted to be involved with a fastpitch only organization.”

Gary Loew has coached in the boy’s league for 26 years. He and Kopp are good friends and they also coach together. Loew said that Rice Lake fastpitch and NAFA wouldn’t be nearly as successful with out Kopp’s involvement.

“He is a driving force in fastpitch,” he said.

For more men’s fastpitch visit these sites:
NAFA Fastpitch
ISC Fastpitch

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. allen filla says:

    I’m hoping to find one or two teams to play ina labor day weekend fastpitch tourney. Please contact me if you can help. I’d appreciate it.
    Allen Filla
    East End Fastpitch
    Independence, Wi

    P.S.Motel, Bars,camping and restaurants near by.

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