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Northern Heat's success part of stable youth baseball program

Cameron Boen and his 12-year-old Cal Ripken teammates held a practice session to help prepare for the regional tournament which begins Thursday in Kalona, Iowa. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Capturing the state championship is becoming the standard for Bemidji's 12-year-old Cal Ripken team. The squad accomplished the feat in 2006 and again in 2008. Last week Bemidji continued its even-year run by blitzing its state tournament foes at the Mark Evenson Complex in Bemidji.

The reward is a berth in the regional tournament which begins Thursday in Kalona, Iowa.

All who watched Bemidji knife through the state competition saw a team that was fundamentally sound and one which continually challenged its opponents to make the correct decisions. In the championship game against Waite Park Bemidji made all of the plays while Waite Park struggled to display the correct reaction to certain situations. The result was a 3-0 Bemidji win and the state crown.

"Our mission statement is to teach fundamentals today so we can have better players in the future," said Bemidji assistant coach Bruce Dahlin. "Our promise is that all of the kids will be taught the fundamentals of the game."

The Cal Ripken 12-year-olds comprise one of many teams which are governed by the Bemidji Youth League. Other BYL programs include tee ball (5 and 6-year-olds), Pony League (7-8), Minors (9-11), the Junior League (9-10), the Senior League (11-12) the Intact League (13-15) and travelling teams featuring players 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 years of age.

"There is a place for every kid who wants to play baseball," said Mark Elliott who is the head coach of the Cal Ripken 12-year-olds.

"This year we have 625 kids in the BYL programs," said Moe Webb, the BYL's treasurer since 1989.

Dahlin has been the BYL president for many years and Elliott serves on the board. The three, plus many other dedicated baseball enthusiasts in the community, have done what they can to see that baseball prospers in Bemidji. And, judging by the continued success of the community's youth teams, their efforts have paid dividends.

"Youth baseball in Bemidji was the vision of a large group of people and it has kept blossoming," Webb said. "One of the keys to the success is the stability in the ranks. Every time I see a successful program I see that stability in the staff. We not only have stability in our ranks but the people on board have only the best interests of the kids in mind."

"The key to a successful organization is to have quality people on board and to get everyone involved," Dahlin said.

Elliott, Dahlin and Joe Kapaun comprise the coaching staff of the 12-year-old team and they are constantly sharing ideas about the strengths and weaknesses of the squad.

"Mark and I have developed a system that has worked in the past and continues to work," Dahlin said.

The foundation of that system is communication, according to Elliott.

"We do analysis of the kids and discuss the team's potential," Elliott said. "Working with the kids is a constant trial process. What we do ask is 100 percent effort from all of the kids because working hard is vital. Everything we stress in baseball we stress as a life lesson.

"We want the kids to have a good time playing baseball but we emphasize working hard," Elliott continued. "The coaches are working hard to be successful and we expect to kids to work as hard as we do."

"Baseball teaches lessons that you will use the rest of your life," Webb said. "And in Bemidji it is a recreational activity for the players and a unity builder for the community."

The team will open the regional tournament 1 p.m. Thursday against Missouri. The other upper-bracket game pits South Dakota against Iowa at 3 p.m.

In the lower bracket, Kansas will take on Colorado at 5 p.m. and North Dakota will challenge the host team at 7 p.m.

The double-elimination tournament continues through Aug 1.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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