It appeared as if the Northfield 12A Gold baseball team was on its way to a tournament title. But leading late in the championship game of the Owatonna Tournament on June 2, the reality something was wrong started to set in.
One of Northfield’s pitchers had gone over their allotted pitch count, but since the opposing team or umpires hadn’t noticed, the Raiders brought the issue up themselves to the umpires, which then forced Northfield to forfeit the game.
While the Raiders settled for second place, they were honored Sunday at Sechler Park by an organization called Youth 1st, which specializes in recognizing acts of positive sportsmanship by youth sports teams. After each game of the tournament, the umpires were asked to submit a report saying if the teams displayed postive or negative sportsmanship. Northfield was given a 100 percent positive mark.
As a result, the Raiders received a plaque, certificates and will participate in a pre-game parade prior to an upcoming Twins game at Target Field.
“This has always been a great group of kids,” Northfield coach Chris Pegram said. “Going into that tournament I just kind of felt good about the quality of players we had and the quality of kids we had. It really wasn’t surprising. The parents have just been great throughout. I’d say it wasn’t really a big surprise.”
Youth 1st was founded eight years ago in Owatonna by Mark Arges, who presented the awards to the Raiders. Last year, the Northfield U14/15 Maroon baseball team won the honor for its sportsmanship in the 2017 version of the Owatonna Tournament.
Arges said Youth 1st started working with youth baseball tournaments and their umpires to recognize examples of exemplary sportsmanship. Now, the company has a partnership with the Twins Community Fund to allow recipients to be rewarded with Twins tickets.
“The formula just started working and we’ve just been trying to refine it and make it better,” Arges said. “We started to partner with more and more communities. We did 190 teams last summer in baseball and softball and this year we’ll be at 300.”
Initially, Pegram said he and the coaches were disappointed in themselves that they allowed the violation to occur. After time to reflect, though, Pegram said he started to realize how positive the experience could end up being.
“It’s great and it’s a great lesson for the kids, too,” Pegram said. “That’s been the best part, is for them just to see it’s more than about how the scoreboard is at the end of the game. There’s more to it than that. It’s just a good learning lesson for all the kids. To get recognized that way feels really good and I’m really happy for the kids.”