Kegel Black Knights in fastpitch for the long haul

Written by Bob on July 26th, 2013

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2013 Marks the 30th anniversary of Kegel fastpitch in Fargo, North Dakota.

FARGO, N.D. – In men’s fastpitch, some teams stick around about as long as it takes a sprinter to run a 100-yard dash. They come and go in the blink of an eye.

But a few teams, like marathoners, stay the steady course. They’re in it for the long haul.

Count the Kegel Black Knights of Fargo in that class, for 2013 marks the 30-year anniversary that Jon Kegel has been sponsoring teams.

Kegel got into the sport in high school after an announcement came over the intercom to start a team. Just 18 at the time, he wasted no time in not only playing, but starting his own boys’ team – the Kegel Juniors.

“I thought it might be fun and totally fell in love with the sport,” said Kegel, 48, adding that he also talked his dad, David, who owned Kegel Sign into sponsoring a team for the Fargo men’s league. “He loved fastpitch and he loved supporting me.”

    ABUNDANCE OF TITLES

The Juniors went on to win three consecutive North Dakota ASA titles, 1987 to ’89. And in 1994, a Kegel 12-Under team won an ASA national championship.

Over the past 30 years, the Kegel name has become one of the most recognized in fastpitch – in the upper Midwest and on the national scene.

Kegel teams have played in an amazing number of ASA, ISC and NAFA national tournaments: 15 NAFA World Series, 16 ISC World Tournaments, and 19 ASA national tournaments at various levels.

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The Kegel Black Knights pictured at the 2012 ISC World Tournament.

And they’ve had their share of success. In 2012, the Black Knights finished fifth in the 46-team ISC World Tournament – the highest a North Dakota team has ever finished in the World Tournament. And over the years Kegel teams have placed eighth and 10th, along with winning five 23-Under world championships.

And in the NAFA World Series, Kegel ball clubs have won four championships, including NAFA’s first Open division in 2003 and the 2008 AA-Major, along with a 23-Under title.

And if you include an arm’s length of state, regional and qualifying appearances and titles, the numbers are simply remarkable.

    MORE THAN A SPONSOR

In 1996, Kyle Koterba made his way to Fargo as a 19-year-old college kid from Montana. He soon met Kegel and started playing for Kegel’s Young Guns, eventually moving up to the Black Knights.

“Jon had already been (sponsoring teams) for 15 years,” said Koterba of when he first met Kegel. “At that time he sponsored three teams in our Fargo Fastpitch League and had at least two of those teams traveling and playing tournaments almost every weekend.”

But Kegel does far more than sponsor ball clubs. He serves as a NAFA tournament director and on the national tournament committee. And he’s also NAFA’s Vice President of the upper Midwest and Canada.

He says he does it for the love of the game, and he credits his wife Kristi and daughters, Sophia, 4, and Gretta, 2, for supporting his passion.

Plus, he’s got the support of others committed to the Black Knights.

“I enjoy the game and sponsoring has gotten easier especially with our brain trust of Kyle Koterba, Jon Lewis (field manager) and Jim Harms (player / coach),” Kegel said.

    GREAT FARGO FASTPITCH LEADERS

Kegel follows a long line of Fargo fastpitch leaders who have fought long and hard for the sport. He credits Paul Lybeck, Mike Lyman, Jim Baum and Ray Clark as worthy of mention.

He admits fastpitch has fallen off since the Juniors and Kegel Sign came on the scene. But a valiant effort is being made to keep the sport going in Fargo.

“It is doing OK,” he said. “It’s not what it was 30 years a go, but with the help of great promoters like Mike Oehlke, Kyle Koterba, Tom Wilson and younger guys like Andrew Potter, Logan Lunde and Vance Christianson, we are holding our own.”

    WORTHY HALL OF FAMER

And Kegel has to be included in this class of great promoters. So much so, that Kegel was inducted into NAFA’s first Hall of Fame class in 1999. He’s the first inductee in the sponsor category in the 21-year history of the organization. His contributions to the sport and NAFA are outstanding says NAFA Executive Director Benjie Hedgecock.

“Jon has sponsored 23-Under teams, masters teams and men’s teams at every level (NAFA offers),” Hedgecock said, adding that Kegel is congenial, easy to work with, and will offer a helping hand with the asking. “Jon is one of the most pleasant people to be around that you will ever meet. He loves the sport and the people who play it.”

    READY FOR THE NATIONALS

The past has been good to Kegel’s teams. But he doesn’t dwell there; he’s focused on the present with the ASA Men’s Major National Tournament, ISC World Tournament, and NAFA World Series less than three weeks away.

The Black Knights seem to be peaking at the right time for a run at a national title. They’re fresh from winning the West St. Paul tournament last weekend with a 5-0 record. Kegel is pleased with the pitching of Sebastian Gervasutti and Gerald Muizelaar, along with a lineup of solid hitters and steady defense.

Muizelaar.99iscwt.webVeteran pitcher Gerald Muizelaar of Grand Forks, N.D., helps anchor a strong pitching staff with Sebastian Gervasutti.

“B.J. Gulick, who should be in my opinion on the USA National Men’s Team is having a good year,” he said, “as are Zach Warne, Rob Giesbrecht and Peter Reimer…”

The Black Knights will be playing in the NAFA World Series in the AA-Major Division at Des Moines (Aug. 7-10). With a 23-Under team a possibility. Kegel says that NAFA has suited him just fine over the years, and he’s pleased with the organization’s growth.

    APPRECIATES WORK OF NAFA

“NAFA was a perfect fit for me when Pat Bucknell (founder) started the organization,” Kegel said. “He took a chance on me, believing this young guy could do the job. Benjie has taken it to the next level, adding more divisions.

“What I like about NAFA is there are levels for everyone that plays the game, not just the best 48 teams. (NAFA) wants players to play the game,” Kegel added.

A look at the Black Knights’ lineup finds it filled with mostly Midwest players from Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. So when it comes to picking players who fit the Kegel brand, their resumes are pretty well known.

    FITTING IN KEGEL STYLE

“The main thing we look for on Kegel are ‘team guys’ that are willing to play our style,” Koterba said, “and have a never quit attitude.”

And it stands to reason that after 30 years, the ‘long-haul’ ball club from Fargo has come to be known far and wide.

“The Kegel name is very well known in fastpitch in general, but more specifically fastpitch in Fargo,” Koterba said. “I couldn’t guess at how many players have worn the Kegel jersey over those 30 years, but it has to be in the thousands. I still meet people from all over the country that come up to me and say they used to play with a Kegel team back in the day.”

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