FINAL POINT - Gering gains praise as host, hard work for Legion state tournament
     2013-08-08      By Terry Gaston   
When teams and fans walked into Oregon Trail Park for the American Legion Class B Seniors Baseball Tournament, they quickly got a look at the result of months of preparation for the Class B Legion State Baseball Tournament.

Members of the Gering Baseball Association, American Legion Post 36 and even players on the Gering Platte Valley Companies Seniors and B&C Steel Juniors helped sell advertising banners that adorned the outfield fences and faced the bleachers — which got a fresh coat of green paint before tournament play began.

The most noticeable addition to the ball park was an awning that stretched from the press box to the backstop fence. The City of Gering, with funding from Keno monies, erected the cover in the weeks leading to the tournament’s start on July 27.

The awning was immediately useful and appreciated by fans, in light of the mix of cooler weather that included some first-night drizzle, and then the warmer weather that included a brief thundershower during the second semifinal game.

“The weather left us alone for the most part. Everyone wanted to buy hot chocolate the first three days and iced tea and snow cones the next two days. We were lucky in that regard,” Mike Hutchison, the state tourney’s director, said last Wednesday afternoon.

While city maintenance workers sharply groomed the game field, Logoz also contributed to the tournament’s atmosphere by painting the state tournament logo behind home plate and the eight teams’ logos in front of the dugouts, four on each side.

Hutchison said after Gering was awarded the Class B Senior State Tournament, it basically took a village to raise the state’s bid into the tournament itself, which was well praised by many out-of-town fans and coaches alike.

“I thank everybody – but mostly Joey (Orozco), Greg (Ferguson), Jeff Timblin – all the people on the board that helped with the tournament is what made possible,” Hutchison said.

“I was just kind of the figurehead, but they deserve all the accolades. And there are other people, too – Doug Jones for sure – just all the people who have been here every day, working the tournament. It took a lot of people. Just all the help from the city who did a nice job with the field.”

Jones, the athletic trainer at Western Nebraska Community College and coach of the 2012 Gering PVC team that won the Class B state championship in Wahoo, served as the Gering Legion baseball program’s manager this summer.

During the tournament, he was seemingly everywhere around Oregon Trail Park, with his resting spot behind the microphone in the press box as the evening session public address announcer.

Jones’ leadership in the PVC Seniors’ winning state last year put the wheels in motion for the state tournament — usually conducted in an eastern Nebraska community — out west.

“You put in for all the tournaments every year, and they reward them on merit and fund recommendation,” Hutchison said. “I doubt if it will be out here again for a few years, because the junior tournament was in Chadron last year.

“I was surprised we got it this year, but we actually for the most part, got this tournament because of our parents from last year. All the areas saw how good (Gering’s) sportsmanship was and everything else that went on. The areas back there recommended that we get the tournament this year, so that’s how we got it.

“And I think we will get good recommendations from the umpires and these people. We’ll get good words, and then in a few years they’ll probably let us have it again.”

One fan, Glenn Hain of Seward, followed his son Jake and the Seward Juniors team to state in Chadron last year.

His review of the tournament in Gering? “It’s 10 times better here, putting it mildly. The umpires are much better; the field is nice and looks a lot better than our field. Everything has been good.”

Travel costs, including per diem for the teams, were a large part of the fundraising needed to conduct the tournament in Gering, Hutchison said.

“It’s just so expensive because you have to pay their way, and for sure five of the eight teams will be coming at least 400 miles,” he said.

Hutchison added that some of the recent Class B state tourney hosts, like Schuyler in 2010, did not have to deal with such expenses, since the teams were from closer communities.

“When they have it back east, most of those teams don’t even stay,” Hutchison said. “They drive back and forth because they’re within 100 miles or less. Traveling for them is a little bit bigger task because they’re not used to it.”

Well, folks, welcome to our world, where our teams have to drive major distances to play out-of-Panhandle opponents.

But once the teams and fans got here, they seemed to enjoy their stay in the North Platte Valley.

Team members, coaches and fans got the chance to enjoy the area’s sites and recreation facilities, some on their own, others like the Bowling Night at Classic Lanes sponsored by the Legion Post.

“The boys enjoyed the bluffs, the scenery, and I know they went out and had some fun,” said Hickman-Norris coach Will Raftery, whose team won the championship at Oregon Trail Park. “I actually got to go play two nice golf courses.“

Raftery added: “A credit to our boys, when we left our hotel, the manager said she has been there 20 years and never had such a polite and well-mannered young team, and that speaks volumes for the group we have.”

“It was a good tournament,” Brent Suing, coach of co-runner-up Elkhorn-Mt. Michael. “We were glad to be out here and we had a lot of fun.”

So hat’s off to the Gering Baseball Association and American Legion Post 36 for all your hard work in gaining, preparing and hosting a great state tournament.

And thank you, visiting teams, for coming out west. We’ll be glad to roll out the welcome mat for you again.

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