Antigo Little League
BY VERN CAHAK
Antigo’s Little League baseball has been a major sports attraction for the past 65 years.
Since 1957, when the league was organized by the Antigo Jaycees, thousands of young athletes developed their playing skills on the same diamond at Second Avenue and Langlade Road and many went on to star at Antigo High School and beyond, thanks to the dedication of the Jaycees.
What began as a crude diamond that was little more than a sandlot developed into an attractive venue for players and fans with numerous improvements and upgrades in recent years.
It all started in 1957 when the Jaycees performed numerous hours of labor, picking rocks and preparing the diamond in a prime example of community service.
There are some familiar names among Antigo’s first Little League players, including Jeff Wagner, Joe “Smokey” Kretz, Charlie Kirsch, Tim Young, Rick Bartletti, Larry Ourada and Dennis Cline.
The league produced many outstanding teams in its history and one of the greatest of them is observing its 45th anniversary this year.
The 1977 Antigo Little League All-Stars achieved the highest level of success, advancing to the Wisconsin-Minnesota state tournament by winning five consecutive games and outscoring opponents, 70-24, in the process. The winning streak ended with a 7-1 loss to Marinette but Antigo came back to win consolation honors by whipping Glendale, 5-1, behind John Lund’s two hit pitching. John Cahak sparked the offense with a home run and a double.
The impressive tournament run began with a 16-1 romp over Merril, followed by an 8-5 decision over Rothschild-Schofield, a 24-10 blowout over Wausau American and a 17-4 romp over Wisconsin Rapids American in District action. Steve Kirsch blasted a three-run homer to give Antigo a 5-4 win over Park Falls in the finals, leading to the multi-state tournament.
Members of that famous team in addition to those mentioned included Mike Zelinski, Jim Anderson, Rick Fleischman, Dave Winter, Eric Bretl, Jeff Golbach, Kevin Schultz, Josh Krueger, Bill Andres, Brian Breutzmann, Mark Wild, Pat Ecker and Norm Waupoose.
There’s more. This year marks the 30th anniversary of another outstanding Antigo Little League All-Star team.
In 1992, when there was a double elimination tournament format, Antigo’s All-Stars took runner-up honors in the state tournament, losing to Beaver Dam, 8-2.
The team advanced to the championship game by edging Appleton, 4-3, in 10 innings. Nate Hayes singled home the winning run.
Ironically, that team was managed by former player Rick Bartletti. Rob Cornelius was the team’s leading hitter with a .450 batting average, Bill Burt hit .391 and Rick’s Son, Brett, hit .350