Minnesota / Iowa Border League

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The Scheevels and Preston, dedicated to fastpitch softball

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Photos taken at the fifth annual Preston Men’s Fastpitch Tournament.

Photos courtesy of Barb Scheevel

PRESTON, MINNESOTA – For 25 years Lynn Scheevel barnstormed from one ball diamond to another in southern Minnesota plying his trade with his sure handed glove at third base, and wielding a powerful bat at the plate.

Playing slow pitch softball.

But fastpitch fans, don’t hold that against him.

Call it enlightenment, a transformation, listening to a higher calling. Or maybe because his kids got involved with the fastpitch game. Whatever the reason, Scheevel, along with his wife Barb, are now strong supporters, promoters, and leaders of the fastpitch side of softball.

Years ago, Lynn and Barb got involved with fastpitch when their sons, Wade now 29, Ryan, 25, and Brett, 21, began playing the sport in the Minnesota / Iowa Border League. A youth fastpitch league for girls and boys.

And even though their sons are long gone from the co-ed fastpitch league for youth ages 6 to 18, the Scheevels have stayed involved as directors of the league. Why?

The sport has grown on them in a big way. For not only do they lead and direct, but they are also huge fastpitch fans.

“It’s a great sport and we want to keep it going,” Barb Scheevel said.

The co-ed fastpitch league is comprised of teams from several surrounding towns, including Fountain, Cherry Grove, Granger, Ostrander, LeRoy, and Preston – just to name a few. Lynn and Barb, along with son Ryan – the Preston Summer Recreation Director – work with dozens of coaches and fastpitch enthusiasts to make the league a success.

And in this league the positions are wide open. Every youngster has a chance at playing any and all the positions, said Barb.

“It’s mixed with boys and girls playing equally,” she said. “The girls get no special treatment. We have about 50 kids from Preston alone. It’s an awesome thing for the kids and it’s how our boys got started.”

The league’s success has reached as far as national tournaments. Teams from the league have gone on to play in Amateur Softball Association (ASA) youth national tournaments. And in 2007 the 18-Under team (all boys) finished third in the national tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

And a few of the boys have even tried out for the USA boy’s national team that plays in international competition against the likes of New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.

But boys and girls playing fastpitch together? Co-ed fastpitch? In some areas boys would frown on that saying it’s a girls game. And why not stick with baseball, a boy’s sport?

“No one has ever said a word against that,” said Ryan, who began playing in the league at age 8 and who helps teach girls and boys how to pitch. “The girls and boys learn skills from each other.” And as far as pitching goes, it’s about 50-50 between the too genders, Ryan added.

Because of the co-ed league, many of the boys have graduated into the men’s side of the sport. Four years ago the boy’s 18-Under team became the nucleus of the Preston Merchants team. A team that has developed into one of Minnesota’s up and coming young men’s teams. Of which, Ryan and his brother Brett pitch and catch respectively.

The Scheevel and Miller names have long been associated with youth fastpitch in Preston. Including Barb’s father, Lyle Miller, who coached and was a big fan of the youth game.

And after Lyle passed away in 2006, a special honor was bestowed upon him for his contributions.

“A scoreboard was named the Lyle J. Miller Memorial Scoreboard in his honor,” Barb Scheevel said, adding that her mother, JoAnn Miller has worked the concession stand for the past two years at the ball park.

“Dad was first my sons’ coach and then later, their best fan, rarely missing a game even when they traveled,” Barb Scheevel said. “Mom and Dad were their in their lawn chairs or bleachers every game.”

When it comes to fastpitch softball, the Scheevel’s involvement doesn’t stop with the youth. Five years ago Barb and Lynn organized the Preston Men’s Annual Fastpitch Tournament. From an initial five teams, the tournament has grown to 14 teams.

And it has become one of the top and in demand tournaments in the state. “I had twenty calls from teams wanting to get in,” Barb Scheevel said, “We could have easily had 16 teams.”

But the Scheevel’s had another motive. “We wanted to bring a men’s tournament to Preston so the boys could see that the game continues on after they leave the youth league,” Barb Scheevel. “Now, our 13 to 15 year-olds are chomping at the bit.”

But she’s quick to give credit for the success of the tournament. The city and the park and recreation department throw their support behind the tournament. And volunteers willingly step forward to lend a hand.

And the whole town of about 1,400 comes alive when teams from Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota mix it up on Preston’s two-diamond complex.

“We have a great amount of people in Preston who want to see the tournament grow and be successful,” Barb Scheevel said. “Preston is wonderful about that. And we always have a good turnout of fans.”

This year the tournament, held on July 25 and 26th,was won by Odin, Minnesota – their third trip to the tournament. Grumpies of Ackley, Iowa took second; Jonny’s Saloon of Elba, Minnesota, finished third; and Life of Iowa from Oelwein, Iowa finishing fourth.

But Preston isn’t the only small town in southeastern Minnesota hosting tournaments. St. Charles, population 3,295, hosted the Whitewater Classic. And Whalen, pop. 64, has hosted a tournament for three decades.

“The Whalen tournament has been held for thirty plus years,” Barb Scheevel said. “It’s put on by the only church in town on the 4th of July. The ball field has these old wooden bleachers that wrap around the infield. It’s like a Norman Rockwell scene.

And as for the future of the sport in little towns like Preston, Whalen, LeRoy, Elba, and St. Charles?

“The little towns are where fastpitch still is a tradition,” Barb Scheevel said. “But it only happens because you have to be dedicated.”