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Destination baseball

The Comets rally between innings during a semifinal game in the Coach Koronk Comet Classic. Twenty-four teams competed during the two-day tournament. James Card Photo

Swan Park on state’s ballpark map

By James Card

Coach John Koronkiewicz will be remembered in the record books for the high school’s first state baseball championship win in 2016 and two state victories in football.

He coached football for 40 years and baseball for 24 years. He is one of very few coaches who have won state titles in two sports.

His legacy lives on in Waupaca but it’s not just in the trophy case. Over 20 years ago he organized a youth baseball tournament that has now turned into what resembles a small-town festival that draws thousands of visitors from around the state.

On the weekend of June 1-2, the three parking lots at Swan Park were packed. The new splash pad was a mob scene of wet scampering children and shade tents were set up everywhere like an improvised summer camp.

The four ball fields were non-stop rotations of 11-12U games between 24 teams competing for the top spot in the Coach Koronk Comet Classic. Many teams were from central Wisconsin and the furthest away team was from Richfield near Milwaukee.

The winning teams in both age groups receive a huge trophy and players get individual medals but the extra touch is an engraved and painted wooden bat from Wagner Bats in Appleton. It is given to the winning team and the coach and the players vote on the most valuable player for the tournament. That player is awarded the bat.

“That’s something the kid will never forget. Everyone we’ve talked to said that it is incredible. They never saw anything like that. So we’re going to keep doing it,” said Kyle Douglas, Waupaca Baseball Organization (WBO) president.

Part of the attraction is the simple, yet well-thought layout of the sports complex. In other communities, a local baseball tournament might have simultaneous games on fields scattered across the town, leaving players and parents scrambling from one field to another.

At Swan Park the four fields are arranged in a quadrant and a person standing under the huge concession stand overhang can keep an eye on three games at once. This creates a close-knit, high-action atmosphere with bathrooms, bleachers and concessions only footsteps away.

However, on Saturday, this festive cohesiveness fell apart as the rain came down. There was a three-hour delay and visitors took the opportunity to explore downtown Waupaca and hit some local restaurants.

“People are here supporting us but if they have a break between games, businesses in town get busy, along with restaurants and hotels,” said tournament director Wes Van Epps as he pointed to an RV in the distance. “People are camped here for the weekend. We bring a lot people to these tournaments and they get to see Waupaca.”

“Every year now we’ve had more and more team coming. We have waiting lists for teams that want to come here. We have registration for these tournaments in October and they are filled up by the first of the year,” said Van Epps.

“We’re very fortunate to have this facility. I had someone say to me this is way nicer than Woyak [Community Sports Complex] in Plover. Plover is awesome. They do a good job with their tournaments, too, but I think Waupaca is becoming a destination tournament. As it should be. We have a great community here,” said Douglas.

Local helping local

“Everyone that’s been here has been taking about how amazing it is. ‘We’re coming back next year,’ they say. We keep making it better, too. We keep bringing more things in, like King Cone. Instead of selling ice cream sandwiches and running out nonstop, we’re trying to support other local businesses by bring them in here,” said Douglas who also doubled as a morning grill-master cranking out McComet sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches.

Part of what makes the tournament work is the volunteer effort put forth by parents in the form of grilling burgers, brats and hotdogs, keeping the scoreboards running and handling concessions. It makes for a long weekend but to give them a break to watch the semifinals, the WBO brought in the Waupaca Junior Bowlers as a Sunday afternoon relief crew. In return for their work, they earned $100 per hour for their club. Last year the chess team helped out. The idea is to help out other groups in the community.

This was the first year to have raffled prizes as a fundraiser. They had 10 different prizes donated from various businesses. Aquamos Coffee, the Beer Barrel, Wanderlust Scents, Shindig, Piggly Wiggly, Whitetail Valley, Tim Koll Photography, Huck & Finn, Koinonia, Strongwood, Re/May Lyons Real Estate and Waupaca Parks and Recreation were sponsors of the tournament.

In return, they also patronize local vendors. They get Whitetail Valley Beef and Neimuth Steak & Chop Shop meats for the grill, Aquamos Coffee is brewed and sold, and Piggly Wiggly is the bun supplier.


“We’ve had a ton of community support. This is where we make our money as an organization. The money we raise we want to pour back into the kids and pour back into this facility. Baseball, just like it does at Lakemen Field, brings the community together,” said Douglas.

A big-picture plan of the WBO is to make the ball fields more universal for more groups. “If we can make these four fields all-dirt infields it would cost $200,000. You have underground irrigation to rip out and that’s where the cost is. But girls softball would benefit from it. Men’s softball would benefit and Waupaca baseball would benefit because you could play these dimensions and bigger dimensions as well,” said Douglas.

Another idea is to partner with the girls softball program and build a shed at Swan Park to store equipment. Another idea is to work with the city to improve the sinks in the park bathrooms.

The next chance to catch nonstop baseball action at Swan Park is July 12-14 for the 8U, 9U and 10U tournament. There are 32 teams registered to play.

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