Janesville’s American Legion baseball program has a rich history.
Featuring mainly high school players from Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker, Post 205 has been a mainstay on the summer circuit since 1958. Janesville teams have won a state-record seven AAA state championships and advanced to the state tournament 25 times.
In 1989, Janesville became the first and only team from Wisconsin to play in the World Series, finishing third.
Unfortunately, the program has fallen on hard times. COVID-19, summer traveling teams and players opting to work instead of playing baseball have all led to the serious decline in program numbersat all levels.
Post 205 did not have a team in 2018 for the first time in 60 years because of a lack of players signed up. The Janesville group teamed up with Beloit Memorial and Turner to form the Rock County River Monsters in 2019, and no legion baseball was played anywhere in the state in 2020 due to COVID-19.
To make matters worse, the 2021 spring high school baseball season will get a late start due to COVID-19. The high school season will not end until early July, meaning the summer legion season also gets a late start.
Recently, Post 205 co-administrators Bob Schenck and Scott Huffman announced their retirements at the end of the year, leaving the program without a coach or plan moving forward.
“If we can’t find the help to take over all aspects of the program, unfortunately it will have to be discontinued,” Schenck said. “And if that happens, Veteran’s Field at Riverside Park Complex will be turned back to the City of Janesville. What they would do with it is unknown.”
“We had a very successful merge with Beloit in forming Rock County Legion in 2019,” Schenck said of the team that advanced to the AAA state tournament.
“And we had a solid four teams lined up for 2020 and then COVID hit, putting an end to the season.”
Schenck said the best thing that could happen in order to save the program is for a number of volunteers to sign up to be part of the Legion board. Board members could then devise a plan to select a coach or co-coaches, figure out a shortened schedule for the 2021 season, develop a plan going forward for future seasons, strategize fundraising opportunities and find a maintenance crew for Veteran’s Field to take care of the diamond and other amenities.
Schenck believes turning the maintenance duties back to the city of Janesville is not in the best interest of the Legion program.
“For the program to be successful and get back on track, you have to be able to maintain the field and care for it,” Schenck said. “Cullen, Ethan and Dave from the city’s parks department have been great to work with, but if Legion does not renew the lease with the city, they would likely open Veteran’s Field up for bids to lease it. Plus, you’ve got a concession stand right there that can be very profitable if run properly. The program can certainly bounce back if the right people get involved.”
Schenck is asking anyone interested in volunteering in any capacity to call him at 608-436-1178.
“American Legion baseball has always been about giving kids the opportunity to play good baseball at an affordable price,” he said. “And let’s face it, traveling teams are not cheap, whereas we’ve always been more than willing to work with players and families. We just want kids to have the chance to play and to play at a great facility.”