LIONS CLUB INVOLVEMENT REKINDLES ENERGY FOR YOUTH BALLFIELDS
A project that has been talked about for years but has failed to gain traction has new life thanks to the involvement of a local service-minded organization.
The Freeman Lions Club has stepped forward and agreed to help lead the effort to see new baseball/softball ballfields built for youth. The plan is still preliminary, but the goal is to build two new fields on property owned by the Freeman Public School District on the northeastern corner of the campus — a location identified several years ago.
The Lions Club has agreed to commit $80,000 to the project, which has already benefited from a $150,000 gift from the city of Freeman and $350,000 from the school district, according to Freeman Superintendent Jake Tietje, who is also working with the project.
Of the $80,000 the Lions Club has pledged, $60,000 is cash in hand, according to Sam Sorensen, a member of the Lions Club who is helping lead the effort. The remaining $20,000 will be raised through club fundraisers.
“And we’re hoping for more,” he said.
The Lions Club will also spearhead the larger fundraising effort needed to see the fields built; that effort will begin after drawings and financial needs are updated by McLaury Engineering, a firm with offices in Sioux Falls and Parkston.
“Once we get the drawings and target goal for the fundraising, we’re looking at one calendar year to secure the funds,” said Tietje, who notes that it’s likely that one field will be built first, “so once people see it — see the vision — the rest of the funds will come in.”
He adds that the fundraising plan will be managed by a fundraising committee and executive committee within that fundraising committee.
“Those efforts are headed up by the Lions Club, which is an awesome thing,” Tietje said. “We feel like we have good representation from members of the Lions Club, members of the school board, members of the community — some key stakeholders that represent all areas so we can hit the ground running.
“The ball really got rolling with the Lions Club stepping up and stepping forward and saying, ‘We want to assist with these efforts.’”
Sorensen served as mayor of Freeman from 2012 to 2020 and was part of a discussion years ago to build new youth ballfields in the land development on the northeast section of Freeman owned by the Freeman Community Development Corporation — the area west and south of Dollar General.
While that never panned out, Sorensen is equally enthusiastic about the current plan and thrilled the Lions Club is a key part of the regenerated discussion.
“That’s what we’re here for — to help Freeman and serve,” he said, noting both the Lions Club and Freeman School District’s board of directors have formally approved the partnership.
Sorensen said members of the Freeman Summer Rec board will also be involved in the process.
“It’s about time this happens and Tietje says the same thing,” he said. “The state activities association has already said, ‘Boy, you do that, you’re going to have the state softball tournament.’ Look at what that would bring to the town.”
While the committee won’t come up with a concrete fundraising plan until the drawings and financial needs are updated, Sorensen is hopeful to secure funds in a variety of ways, from a major, million-dollar donor that would come with naming rights to personalized pavers that anybody can buy starting at $150.
Discussions about building a new youth ballpark complex go back close to a decade and have grown out of the need for a facility to better accommodate a robust Freeman Summer Rec program — a program that also includes players from Marion.
According to Sorensen’s notes on his preliminary fundraising plan, the 2023 season saw participation from 79 girls and 73 boys.
Youth baseball and softball games in Freeman are limited to the single field north of Merchants State Bank field, which is home to the local amateur team, the Freeman Blacksox; that causes scheduling challenges.
The single field also prevents Freeman from hosting tournaments, and many practices and games have to take place in Marion’s City Park, which includes two ball fields.
Sorensen admits that the proposed location for the new complex isn’t ideal because it’s a tight fit, but believes it’s the best option because of its close proximity to the large junior-senior high school parking lot and association with the Freeman Public School District. High school softball is now part of the athletic programs there, and high school baseball will presumably be, as well, once it is sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.
“It’s the best way to go, so let’s get this done,” Sorensen said. “This is one thing I wanted done (as mayor), so I’m excited for this.”