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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 07 2013

Schnepf: Legion baseball on solid ground despite financial challenges

Fargo - American Legion baseball is alive and well, even though its previous funding has died.

As Fargo Post 2 prepares to host this week’s Central Plains Regional tournament, it has once again found a way to remain financially afloat for its 86th consecutive season of Legion baseball.

Back in the heyday from the late ’60s to the early ’90s when it won eight state championships and had three World Series appearances, Post 2 got much of its funding from the Legion. It was pretty much an open checkbook.

“Anybody who had to play baseball did not have to pay a red dime,” said Post 2 baseball club general manager Steve Parmer.

That’s not the case today – not only for Fargo Post 2, but many of the Legion baseball programs across the country. A dwindling Legion membership has meant less cash to spend.

“Across the country, Legion membership has declined,” said Tim Cooksey, chairman of Oregon Legion baseball who is in Fargo this week as the region tournament manager. “Now you are seeing more sponsorships, more fundraisers to keep these baseball programs going. We really need young veterans to get active in American Legion.”

So instead of banking on the Legion for money, this year’s Post 2 players paid a $100 registration fee, had to sell $50 worth of tickets for a pancake feed and had to sell $400 worth of season tickets. Post 2 also relies on the five tournaments it hosts in June and the two amateur tournaments it hosts in August for revenue.

And parents of players have been performing the volunteer duties once filled by Legion members. It all adds up in paying for expenses and for coaches – the only ones who do get paid.

“In the past, we had people knocking on our door instead of us knocking on their door,” said Parmer, who is the son of the late Joe Parmer, known as Mr. Baseball in Fargo.

Joe Parmer was a part of Post 2 Legion baseball for more than 50 years, putting the program on the national map. He was the general manager of Post 2 baseball during the above-mentioned heydays and was instrumental in getting the World Series to be played at Jack Williams Stadium in 1983, 1992 and 1995.

“This is an outstanding facility,” said Cooksey, who will be managing his first Central Plains tournament. “What better place to host this tournament.”

Jack Williams Stadium, which sits north of downtown Fargo along the Red River, was built in 1966 – thanks in a large part to the Gilbert C. Grafton Post 2 Legion, which raised $75,000 for the project.

In the 1990s, Joe Parmer and his crew raised $35,000 to add stadium lights and an additional $50,000 to add a second level to the team clubhouse. In 2001, they put up the current electronic scoreboard.

The improvements helped bring the 1992 and 1995 World Series to Jack Williams. But don’t expect it to come back.

Ever since Post 2 hosted the 2009 World Series at Newman Outdoor Field, the Legion’s national organization may have found a permanent home in Shelby, N.C., where tournament attendance records were smashed last year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Shelby turned out to be what Omaha is for the College World Series,” Cooksey said. “They are making an event of it.”

Post 2 will try to make the most of the next two Central Plains tournaments. The groundwork has been set by the American Legion. Now it’s up to all those baseball volunteers to keep it going.

“We are so lucky to have this facility,” said Jim Pettersen, vice chairman for Post 2 baseball. “Everything that we have here was built by the Legion. Our goal is to see that this lasts another 50 years.”

Even without that open checkbook.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com