Snowshoe Baseball in Lake Tomahawk is a staple of summer fun that is not only well-known in the Lakeland area, but has gained a name not only state-wide but nationally and even internationally.
There are those who simply don’t understand the notion of playing any type of ball game on snowshoes – and doing it in the middle of summer.
But that changes once one sees the game in action.
And in an effort to extend the name of the Lake Tomahawk Snowshoe Baseball institution to include an even wider net, Don Hilgendorf, the team’s longtime manager, has been leading up the nearly two-year effort to schedule a game with the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team.
“I started working on the Wounded Warrior stuff in September 2012,” Hilgendorf said. “I heard about this Wounded Warrior team and I thought, ‘why not?’”
The Wounded Warrior team, made up of young men who have lost one or more limbs to injuries sustained in combat, travels the country playing against “able-bodied” players.
According to Hilgendorf, the players on the Wounded Warrior team were competitive softball players before their combat injuries. Through hard work in rehabilitation and the wonders of modern prosthetics, they have been able to resume competing.
“So I got on the Internet and looked them up. I found out who the coach was and I called him,” Hilgendorf said.
Asking about how to go get the guys to play, the Wounded Warriors’ coach asked Hilgendorf where Lake Tomahawk was located.
“When I told him we played snowshoe baseball, right away he said, ‘We don’t play in snow.’”
Hilgendorf quickly corrected the other coach’s misconception and also got him squared away on the physical location of Lake Tomahawk.
“After I explained about snowshoe baseball ... I told him we would play however they wanted. He said, ‘let me run it by the players.’ He told me to call him [back] ... and I was hoping he would say yes.
“When he called back, he said, ‘I ran it by the players and two of the players live in Wisconsin. They know about snowshoe baseball – they never played it, but they had heard about it. So the players said, ‘why not?’ Some of them might be nutty enough to even wear snowshoes.’”
The only agreement was that the players’ and coaches’ airfare, transportation, housing and meals were to be paid for by the local organization.
That’s when Hilgendorf and others in Lake Tomahawk got busy making the arrangements and soliciting donations.
“We got set up at Camp American Legion – they are as happy as larks for these guys to come. They will have first choice on cabins.”
In all, there will be 18 members of the Wounded Warriors who will be coming to the area for the games.
“They also said that if they were to come, they would play one game of snowshoe baseball and that they would play us the next day in a regular softball game – a doubleheader that will start at noon.
The Friday, July 25, 7:30 p.m. game will be played in Lake Tomahawk and the doubleheader game will be played at the Minocqua Sports Complex starting at noon on Saturday, July 26.
“I think everyone is going to be surprised by these guys,” Hilgendorf said. “Not only are they real gentlemen, they also are great ballplayers.”
In addition to the donations that have come in from Lions and Lioness clubs, Legion clubs and other organizations and individuals across the state, there have also been donations from area individuals and businesses.
There have been others who have also donated material goods that will help the event.
For instance, Hilgendorf said that new chips have been added to the field through the donation by Pukall Lumber Company in Arbor Vitae.
To get ready for that donation,
the town of Lake Tomahawk road crew went in and dug out the old chips down about five inches to allow for the new chips.
Parking and other concerns
Parking was also considered a big hurdle that would need to be overcome.
“Where are we going to park all these cars?” Hilgendorf asked.
The coach said that on July 4, there are usually between 2,000 and 3,000 people at the field for the game and the fireworks.
“You can figure that we should double that,” he said.
To accommodate all of those who might attend, more bleachers will be installed for the night in center field and along the right field line.
So the big question was how the town was going to handle the vehicles that will be pointed toward Lake Tomahawk that night.
“I got a call three weeks ago from Dolhun Air Field. They were asking about the parking and the guy said that they were having a meeting of the airfield committee and that he would call after the meeting. He said that most likely we could have people park out there.”
Hilgendorf got the good news after that meeting, and on top of that, an area bus service indicated they would be donating buses for the day to provide a shuttle service into town.
“We also have a couple of guys who offered to go out and park the cars [at the air field].’
Hilgendorf also said that EMT and ambulance service will be provided a reduced rate. The sheriff’s department will be providing security around the town that night.
In all, Hilgendorf figured they needed to raise between $40,000 and $45,000 to meet all their obligations to bring the Wounded Warriors to town.
To date, the donations have come in at the tune of around $47,000.
And that doesn’t include the number of volunteers who will spend time doing a variety of jobs leading up to and over the course of the two days the team will be in the area.
There will be numerous area individuals and groups who will bake pies to be sold the night of the game, and there will be volunteers who are members of various groups who will help man the concession stand.
Hilgendorf said the concession stand is busy during regular games at the park, “so you can imagine what it’s going to be like [on July 25].”
When the doubleheader is played in Minocqua on Saturday, July 26, Rotary is handling the concession sales with donations from the proceeds going to both the Wounded Warriors and Angel on My Shoulder.
The Minocqua Police Department will also be handling traffic at the Minocqua park on Saturday morning and afternoon.
Hilgendorf said donations are still being solicited, and checks, made out to Wounded Warriors, may be sent to Peoples State Bank, 9560 State Highway 70, Minocqua.
For more information, call Hilgendorf at 715-277-2554 or Jeff Smith at 715-277-2616.
Raymond T. Rivard may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lakeland Times reporter Jamie Taylor contributed to this story.