Cancellation becomes more likely for summer Baxter parks and rec season

Depending on whether restrictions are loosened, the board left open the possibility of pickup ballgames, where times and dates would be posted for games at Oscar Kristofferson Park and anyone interested can participate for $1.

Oscar Kristofferson Park Wednesday, April 15, in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Unless Gov. Tim Walz issues new guidelines in the near future, there will likely be no summer parks and recreation sports programs in Baxter this year.

The joint powers board made up of Brainerd School District and city of Baxter representatives met Monday, June 15, via Google Meets and agreed to recommend not to offer programs under current COVID-19 guidelines. A secondary option, however, is on the table, provided guidelines loosen later in the summer.

The school’s community education department works with the city of Baxter to offer summer baseball, softball and T-ball leagues.

Under Executive Order 20-74, which Walz issued June 5, organized youth sports programs can operate, but recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health only allow for skills training right now and not games for certain sports.

Baseball and softball are considered medium-risk sports, according to the department of health, and are defined as “sports that involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the likelihood or respiratory particle transmission between participants or intermittent close contact or group sports or sports that use equipment that can’t be cleaned between participants.” Games are not allowed for medium- and high-risk sports.


Cori Reynolds, Brainerd Public Schools director of community education, said not being able to have games is a big deal for the ball programs.

“One thought that has stuck in my mind is that really a primary goal of the parks and rec ball program in the summer has been to give kids the opportunity to fall in love with the sport,” Reynolds said. “And teaching them skills to be successful in the game is obviously a big part of that, but the real work and realizing that goal, in my mind, occurs when the children put those skills into practice during games.”

Without being able to have those games, Reynolds said she does not believe community education is able to provide the type of programs families have come to expect.

In addition, the department of health recommends disinfecting equipment between each use or not sharing equipment, which Baxter City Administrator Brad Chapulis said could be difficult and/or costly. Either more employees would have to be on hand to disinfect bats and helmets between each batter, or program organizers would have to buy more equipment, as each participant may not have it or be able to afford their own, Chapulis said.

But if Walz were to loosen guidelines and allow games to be played, Reynolds said the option to offer the dollar baseball program is still possible. It would take about a week to organize, she said, with recruiting volunteer coaches to provide basic skills training and oversee games a few times a week. Essentially, times and dates would be posted for games at Oscar Kristofferson Park, and anyone interested can participate for $1.

The cost to run the dollar ball program would be about $2,300 when taking into account increased expenses and revenues, according to the proposed budget Reynolds provided Monday.

“When we were kids, we went to the ballpark and we just picked up and played games, and that’s what you did,” said Baxter Parks and Rec coordinator Joe Pohlkamp. “And that’s basically what we’re looking at is putting a schedule out for when they can come to the park and play. … It’s just some sort of a game for the kids to play.”

Pohlkamp said pitching machines could be used to make games go faster and to allow for the absence of catchers.


The ultimate decision for the summer programs lies with the Baxter City Council and the Brainerd School Board. Members of the joint powers board agreed to recommend to their respective bodies the suspension of summer ball programs unless the governor lifts restrictions later in the summer.

Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said that’s a plan he could see the council approving.

“I think my gut feeling is that we need to do something, and the council would probably rally to that also,” Olson said. “... The drums are beating pretty loud, and everybody’s tired of being cooped up. So I think we need to show that, you know, our hearts are in it and our pocketbooks will be, too.”

The Baxter City Council’s next meeting is Tuesday, June 16, and the Brainerd School Board will meet June 25.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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