Henning softball adds a fourth team for 14U’s 

Photos by Chad and Dani Koenen, contributed
Above: The Henning Orange 10U fastpitch team ended their season in Frazee at the end of season tournament on Monday. The team finished the regular season in fourth place out of 11 teams, but was defeated in the opening round of the tournament. Team members included: Front row: Addisen Ogle, Brielle Thalmann, Shelby Loock and Korie Koenen. Back row: Coach Chad Koenen, Abi Bartells, Lily Grieger, Jocelyn Doll, coach Dani Grieger and Charlie Dahmer. Not pictured: Aaliyah O’Dea and Shawna O’Dea.

By Robert Williams

Editor, Frazee-Vergas Forum

The Henning summer softball program recently completed a successful second season and added a 14U team to the existing two 10U’s and 12U teams.

The program began with a conversation last year between Mike Weller and Chad Koenen. They talked about how their kids really enjoy softball and how Henning did not have a summer program for youth other than summer rec.

The duo reached out to people running similar programs in New York Mills and Frazee to explore options. Both men have two age-eligible daughters so they already had four players of the 10 needed to start the 10U team.

“We weren’t sure if we wanted to have our kids play in Henning or just play somewhere else,” Koenen said. “It just kind of morphed into us wondering if we could get enough kids in Henning. We just wanted to have something fun for our kids to do with their friends.”

The future team was eligible to join a league with teams from existing towns nearby to avoid any long travel, but how many kids would be interested remained unknown. 

After an information sheet was sent home with elementary kids during the 2021 school year, 33 responses of interest were received to form both a 10U and 12U team. There were 21 kids signed up for 10U, which allowed two teams in that age bracket to form. Weller and Koenen reached out to Dakota Aeling who agreed to coach a second 10U team. 

Those participation numbers were a welcome surprise.

“We thought it would be cool if we had enough kids to sign up just for one 12U team and the younger kids could play up and we’d just deal with it,” Koenen said. 

Cutting down on travel time and keeping the team locally based in Henning were imperatives and the interest shown from so many local kids made that feasible.

Another imperative was avoiding the high costs associated with typical traveling teams.

The Weller and Koenen families combined to purchase all the equipment needed for all three teams the first year. The Henning Citizen’s Advocate newspaper chipped in to purchase jerseys and cover league and umpire fees. The newspaper’s contribution allowed the kids to just play and avoid having to fundraise or seek more sponsorships. The newspaper also sponsored the jersys, paid all of the league fees and umpires once again this season.

“We wanted it to be free,” said Koenen. “We didn’t want to have the parents have to pay $150 to be on a traveling team.”

The plan is to keep the program free of charge as long as kids are interested in playing. That interest is growing, as are the number of teams.

All three first-year teams were competitive their first year getting into the win columns multiple times and have shown further improvement in 2022 and added a 14U team.

Weller and Koenen were approached by Casey Bunkowski to get the 14U team started this summer with 13 Henning kids participating. This year approximately 50 kids from the Henning area participated in 10U, 12U and 14U.

The program is dedicated to sponsoring the sport at the youth levels only and not trying to compete with the school’s varsity levels, typically played in 16U or 18U summer leagues.

People from the community have also approached Weller and Koenen about fundraisers for needed repairs and improvements to Henning’s softball fields. 

Not needing funds for the team programs, both men were happy to direct those fundraising efforts to the appropriate group for improvements to the city-owned fields. The fields are currently without the typical amenities like dugouts and scoreboards, along with repairs that are needed to the fencing.

“We don’t need the funds for the softball program,” said Koenen. “If people want to fundraise, the softball fields definitely need improvements.”

The Henning 12U team ended their season on Tuesday, July 12 at their end of season tournament in Park Rapids. Team members included: Front row: Ivy Witt and Rylee Weller. Middle row: Emily Hanson, Klare Thalmann, Stella Iliff and Hallie Weller. Back row: Coach Mike Weller, Makaya Oehrlein, Kendall Koenen, Gretchen Mimbach, Brooklynn Geyer and Hailey Hanson. Not pictured: Brittany Kline and Jolene Fosse.
Below left: The Henning Black 10U team finished the regular season in sixth place out of 11 teams. Team members included: Annabelle Jacobs, Sheila Tierney, Emersyn Spires, Gracie Springer, Cami Dittberner, Shadley Bunkowski, Makayla Menze and Savannah Springer. Not pictured: Olivia Deyonge, Harper Umland, Mila Umland and Hailey Fiskum.