Youth sports organization continues to grow

Over the last 34 years, many kids growing up in Anoka and Ramsey learned how to throw, hit and run while playing on an Anoka-Ramsey Athletic Association (formerly Anoka Youth Athletic Association or Ramsey Youth Athletic Association) team.

The association offers programs in baseball, basketball, football, softball, tennis, soccer (Northern Lights Soccer Club) and most recently lacrosse to more than 3,800 kids with an all volunteer staff. The softball offerings include a higher level traveling program known as NorthStar Fastpitch in addition to inhouse offerings.

Sylvia Grinsell and Jordyn Willenbring play catch with teammates during fastpitch softball practice at Central Park.

Sylvia Grinsell and Jordyn Willenbring play catch with teammates during fastpitch softball practice at Central Park.Photo by Sue Austreng

The NorthStar Fastpitch program was established to offer a more competitive environment for kids who thrive under a higher level of play “without having to leave for a less desirable overall situation,” according to Mark Miller, communications Director for the association.

“Many kids have a sense of hometown pride and would prefer to stay local,” Miller said. “This program prides itself on making this happen for them while at the same time allowing them to play at a level consistent with club teams who have a similar schedule.”

The association attracting so many kids is a testament to the dedicated volunteers and the level of competition it offers, he said.

“Some kids have dropped from ARAA to go to club teams,” Miller said. “In these cases, many end up returning to ARAA after trying these other options because they want to get back to the organization. We offer a competitive and growth-orientated experience for our kids.”

Anoka B fastpitch second baseman fields a short hop as a teammate runs the bases during  practice session at Central Park.

Anoka B fastpitch second baseman fields a short hop as a teammate runs the bases during practice session at Central Park.Photo by Sue Austreng

Softball Commissioner Pam Marszalek said the focus is on offering a place for Anoka and Ramsey kids to play from six to 16-year-olds.

Registration for the fall season is now open with a five-week schedule starting in mid-August ending with two tournaments (state qualifier and state).

The association’s NorthStars 12U has back-to-back third-place finishes in North American Fastpitch Association NAFA-sanctioned national tournaments. “We’ve kind of made a name for ourselves now,” she said. “We want our best of the best to play for us.”

If they need another player to fill out a roster, the team will ask players from neighboring communities to join.

NorthStars 10U and 14U teams will compete in nationals this weekend in Bloomington and Eden Prairie, respectively.

Jordyn Willenbring beats out the throw to first.

Jordyn Willenbring beats out the throw to first.Photo by Sue Austreng

The association was established in 1984 after Anoka Youth Athletic Association (established in 1979) merged with Ramsey Youth Athletic Association. It supports the youth in Anoka and Ramsey through guidance, equipment and fields to participate in sports with an all-volunteer organization.

“We believe this spirit of volunteerism and participation is essential to community health,” Miller said.

The commitment level from parents, coaches, directors, commissioners and board members who volunteer their time and talents is very high, he said.

One way the association honors its kids is through a player of the week program, sponsored by Dairy Queen. The program is open to traveling program, NorthStar Fastpitch, inhouse players, and the weekly recipient receives a coupon for a free Blizzard.

The association hosted the fifth annual Dirt Devil Classic that brought 40 teams to Ramsey Central Park the first weekend of June.

Besides high-quality softball, teams collected a lot of food to help fill the Anoka County Brotherhood Council Food Shelf.

Marszalek said the food drive was a first for the tournament and from the show of support, they hope to make it an annual part of the Dirt Devil tournament.

The tournament, made up of 8U, 10U and 12U teams, helped collect 2,228 pounds of food and $147 for the local foodshelf. Through Second Harvest Food Bank, the monetary donation added 588 pounds for a grand total of 2,166 meals. The association’s 10U Crump team collected the most food and as a result earned Minnesota Twins tickets.

After fielding a hard grounder Anoka B fastpitch third baseman looks the runner back to second.

After fielding a hard grounder Anoka B fastpitch third baseman looks the runner back to second.Photo by Sue Austreng

Most valuable player awards were also given out.

Two NorthStar 12U teams, A and B squads, took part in the Best of the Best tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, over Memorial Day.

Marszalek said the teams learned a lot more from playing a few games since they had a full day of games erased because of water on the field. “They learned a lot about camaraderie since they were in a hotel together,” she said.

Both teams won a couple times out of seven games. Success was not measured on the scoreboard but the memories made as part of a team, according to Marszalek.

The 12U A squad has posted a 51-13-2 record so far this summer, winning the 14 age-group at the Coon Rapids Classic, the Down-N-Dirty tournament, a Suburban Fastpitch League of Minnesota state tournament qualifier and fifth place at the state tournament.

Already qualifying for nationals, the squad posted an 8-2 record beating Cottage Grove, Prior Lake, Shakopee, Bloomington, Farmington, Mankato Peppers, Forest Lake and Eastview. Losses came against Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Eagan.

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

up arrow