25 years and still going strong

NEW ULM – While New Ulm is known for its baseball history, another spring and summer sport can lay claim to having a pretty proud tradition of its own.

The Windmill Classic, which has become a summer staple in New Ulm, is now in its 25th year of existence and will take place June 21-22 in New Ulm at softball diamonds all over the city.

The tournament will bring 55 teams from across the state and at total of 137 games over the weekend. Teams will compete at the 10-under, 12-under, 14-under, 16-under and 18-under levels in pool play on Saturday and tournament play on Sunday. The tournament goes all day on various fields, and has been hosted on fields including Harman Park, Jefferson, St. Paul’s, Washington, Minnesota Valley Lutheran, Courtland and even Martin Luther College.

Tim Loose, who is the current President of the New Ulm Girl’s Fastpitch Association, said that the tournament got its start 25 years ago on a plan put together by several people, including Jerry Sandau, who Loose credits as the person most responsible for getting the tournament up and running.

Sandau admitted that looking back, he had no idea the tournament would last as long as it has, nor be as successful as it has been.

“No, it requires a lot of work, by a lot of different people and it grew and grew and it’s still growing,” Sandau said. “There’s good teams that come because its been around for so long, but was it going to last this long, that’s up in the air.”

Sandau helped form the NUGFA in the late 80s and the idea was to make sure everyone playing softball in New Ulm could take part in the sport. Although he doesn’t remember exactly, Sandau thinks the original Windmill Classic had 48 teams in the 12, 14, 16 and 18-under levels.

Loose said that the NUGFA was a collaboration of parents from the schools in town to play together and develop as players. This program grew into one of the bigger and well-respected programs in Southern Minnesota.

“Before the tournament started, some [New Ulm] Public and [New Ulm] Cathedral dads got together to develop a summer program that could play area teams,” Loose said. “That’s kind of what started it. After a few years of that, that’s when they started the tournament.”

While a lot of programs across the state aim to draw the best players in each community, New Ulm is different, according to Loose.

“We take a lot of pride in being colorblind, relative to where a kid goes to school,” Loose said. “We never cut anybody, everybody plays. A lot of communities look at our process and wish that they could be more like us.

“There’s a lot of club teams that try to recruit the best players and I guess we take pride in dividing everybody up equally and giving it our best shot to develop some success at our schools, too,” Loose said.

While there are plenty of teams in the tournament now, Sandau said that it had as many as 84 in it at one time. They didn’t have a problem scheduling teams and there was always enough diamonds to play the games, according to Sandau.

The tournament is one that draws a number of premier teams from around the state, bringing a high level of competition to the city. The teams come from places such as Mankato and New Ulm, along with some metro area teams and teams from South Central Minnesota.

“Its always drawn a great number of teams and they’re high-quality teams,” Loose said. “We just have the tradition down here that people recognize and the high-quality teams come here. We always have a lot of teams that come here and it puts a strain on all of our fields, but we seem to get it done.”

Loose works with a crew that has plenty of experience organizing the tournament. This helps when lining up the behind-the-scenes stuff like concessions, field maintenence, organizing umpires and anything else that should pop up over the course of the two-day event. Loose is in charge of scheduling the teams, something that happens once the teams are lined up. The teams start registering in January.

“We have a lot of veterans in the organization, so there’s not a whole lot of training that needs to be done,” Loose said. “When you’ve got all those veterans, that really helps. We’ve got a 14-person board and between them and the coaches, they’re the ones that really make the whole tournament go.”

One such challenge that seems to come up once in a while is Mother Nature. Every once in a while, rain or thunderstorms will sweep through the area, forcing delays, but rarely cancellations. The numerous volunteers and workers throughout the city manage to get the fields ready to play in even the most difficult times, Loose said. They dealt with rain last year and that didn’t wash away the tournament.

“Rain is the biggest [problem],” Loose said. “Last year, we had 12 fields and we had a rain over night both nights, so we had people out at 5 a.m. with their own personal equipment getting the fields ready.

“It’s actually just amazing,” Loose said of the volunteers and the help. “There’s some people on the board that make all that happen, if we need a four-wheeler or something, somehow it shows up in 30 minutes. We just have a lot of great people in New Ulm that come together.”

Although he’s no long affiliated with the softball association, Sandau still watches a game from time to time. And he likes what he sees with the current state of the game in New Ulm.

“It’s in good hands right now with the people that are running it,” Sandau said.

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