LETCHER, SD — A project five years in the making, Letcher now has his own teen baseball team.

In the past, the community of about 160 people about 20 miles north of Mitchell did not have enough resources or athletes to field a teen baseball team.

With the help of various sponsors, local businesses, volunteers and parents, Letcher formed not one but two teams, both called the Hawks, with one for 14 and under and another for 16 and under. In his first year, the Hawks have 12 baseball nights with home games remaining on June 27-28, June 30, and July 19.

The Hawks’ opening night was on Thursday, June 2, and one of three volunteers who have been involved in the process from the very beginning, Steve Larson, seized the moment and said it took effort. full band to make something like this possible. The team has players from Letcher, Artesian and Woonsocket.

“We were all involved in every step of the process. It really takes a village for something like this to happen,” Larson said. “There have been so many people willing to help from spectators running the scoreboard, to supporting local legion teams, to parents and even various sponsors who have helped provide the funding we needed.”

Larson, along with Andy and Melissa Ettswold, were among the volunteer leaders within the community trying to get the project off the ground. For the past few years, Letcher was a little shy about filling out the 14U roster, but with the help of the community and other local organizations, their big plan came to fruition.

Deb Jacobson, owner of local bar Jake’s Lounge, was one of the first to lend a hand. Since 2010, Jacobson has donated burgers to Letcher’s Little League baseball team, to sell at their home games, so the team can use the sales funds to purchase supplies and resources for the team and the baseball field. Signage atop the baseball stadium’s scoreboard recognizes the late Denny “Jake” Jacobsen, the bar’s namesake and a supporter of the Letcher community.

Photo of the scoreboard at Letcher Ball Field, including sponsor Jak’s Lounge, during the 14U and 16U baseball team’s home opener Thursday, June 2, 2022 in Letcher, South Dakota.

Adam Thury/Republic Mitchell

Still trying to field a team for the past two years, Letcher still had expenses to account for jerseys, helmets, bats, agrilime soil and a portable mound. The team started applying for grants and said they would accept any donations to help with the condition of the pitch, as well as getting the necessary equipment for the players.

Letcher was approved for a grant from the CorTrust ALM Community Foundation — which supports projects at Artesian, Letcher and Mount Vernon — contributing to a $3,500 portable pitching mound. Dakota Pro Air sponsored the team and provided the uniforms. Community organizations in Letcher and other nearby areas without a local youth baseball team, such as the Woonsocket American Legion, Letcher American Legion, and Arteisan Community Improvement Association have donated extensively.

Another obstacle concerned the schedule. Letcher knew he would have a team, but not until mid-March when the local I-90 league finalized its schedule. The Hawks set their own schedule and managed to field games, with 10 14U games and eight 16U games. The 14U team is also in action this weekend in the Mitchell Teen Baseball Tournament.

Aside from a few other youth summer programs and adult softball, the city has had limited organized sports in recent years. Letcher’s amateur baseball team, for example, left town decades ago, and community high school sports are held in nearby Forestburg and Woonsocket.

Both teams are made up of area kids from Woonsocket, Artesian and Letcher. Leading both teams is head coach Jonathan Linke, who said watching the team build from the ground up has been very rewarding.

“It’s really exciting for all of us in the area to be in baseball again,” Linke said. “It feels good to have baseball here and to see the local community supporting it. Throughout the preparation of our first game, we received support from community members and businesses who helped us sponsor the supplies we needed. That support is huge in (Sanborn County), it will continue to be that way and it’s just gratifying to see it all come together.

Fundraising will have to continue for the Hawks, having to improve lights and more netting around the field, with donations being accepted by the town of Letcher to go towards the field.

The Hawks started training in May and still need a lot more time to reach their potential. Some players on the roster haven’t played baseball in more than two years because they were previously restricted by age restrictions in previous leagues. Some have just had their first opportunity to play the sport, like Letcher resident Grant Edwards.

Edwards, a left fielder for the 14U team, gets his first baseball experience playing with his hometown. Opportunities in other cities weren’t possible for Edwards, which made him all the more excited that it was working to play Letcher.

” It feels good. I wish I had started earlier so I had more experience, but it feels good,” Edwards said. “I always wanted to play, so I’m happy.”