Playing baseball or softball on a regular field is difficult enough as it is, now imagine playing either sport while wearing snowshoes.
Yet that’s what happens every Monday night from the end of June until the end of August in Lake Tomahawk for going on 53 summers now.
According to Don Hilgendorf, who has been involved with the Snowhawks snowshoe baseball team for 16 years and a summer spectator before that, he ended up taking over from the original manager.
“I knew Frank Christenson who was running snowshoe baseball before I moved up here,” Hilgendorf said. “I had been coming up here since 1961, and that’s the year it started in the summertime. So I’d seen a game every summer I came up here, unless it was rained out.”
Hilgendorf said that back in the 60s, a small parade complete with marching band would go through town and end at the ball field.
“I got to know Frank later on in the 90s, and I knew eventually we were going to move up here. So when we got up here, he was still alive and running it, and he asked if I would be interested in running it. I had just got done coaching college baseball before I got up here, so I said ‘sure Frank,’” he said. “I started that in ‘98 and Frank passed away in 2002, so I took everything over then and I’ve been involved ever since.”
Hilgendorf said the sport grew out of a favorite pastime of the people in the area to help get through the long winters.
“They used to play this on the lakes in the wintertime when they froze over. They used to have a regular league in this area, and they were mostly sponsored by all the taverns and restaurants in the area. This was from the 40s right up to 1960, 61, they played all winter ball,” Hilgendorf said. “Well, Ray Sloan decided let’s put something on for the tourists who visit the area, and he came up with the idea of putting the saw chips and sawdust on the field, wear snowshoes, don’t wear gloves and use a 16” ball and put on a performance for the people.”
This season, the Snow Hawks will play host to The Wounded Warrior softball team, and the team is trying to raise funds to get them here and pay for their lodging and meals.
“Then we have renovations we have to do to the field, we have to bring in rental bleachers from down around the Madison area; we have them booked right now,” he said. “There’s stuff we have to do with the concession stand and we want to have special t-shirts made for the game. Once all these bills are paid for, anything above and beyond that will go to the Wounded Warriors.”
The rules of softball are generally followed, but the base paths are shorter.
“Our lines down first and third and in between run about 55 feet because it’s hard to run in snowshoes,” he laughed.
Hilgendorf said back in the early 60s, the Lake Tomahawk team would travel to tournaments, including the national championship.
“That’s how we ended up having the national champion snowshoe baseball team right here in Lake Tomahawk,” he said.
Games are played every Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. beginning with the starting contest set for June 23 and concluding August 25 which is the annual benefit for the Lakeland Food Pantry. The July 4th game will again feature the Chicago All-Star team. The stands at Snowshoe Park provide an excellent view of the town fireworks which follow the holiday contest.
There is no admission to the games, but a butterfly net is passed throughout the stands during mid-game to collect donations. Hilgendorf said in addition to raising money for the Wounded Warriors, the team donates everything above and beyond what is needed for expenses, equipment and supplies to area charities.
A concession stand is available on the grounds and is sponsored by the following area service clubs: Lions, Lioness, Legion and Legion Auxiliary, Circle of Women, Sno-fleas Snowmobile Club, Lake Tomahawk Bible Church and the Lake Tomahawk Volunteer Fire Department. Food is available beginning at 5:15 p.m. for the convenience of residents and visitors to the area. The menu includes brats, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, sodas and coffee. There is also a vast array of homemade pies to top off your meal. The Lakeland Girls’ Track Team operates a popcorn machine each game which fits right in with the co-announcers’ seventh-inning rendition of “Take me out to the Ball Game.”
For further information contact Hilgendorf at either 715-277-2554 or 715-482-3349.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.