Minnesota Town Pulls Together to Fix Community Ball Field
From its shared public spaces – parks, public buildings, schools – you can feel right at home in Benson, Minnesota. They’re the public face of the community, and more importantly, the places the town’s 3,000 residents come together to enjoy life.
Which is why second grade teacher Roger Ebnet wanted to do something about the deteriorating local ball field.
“Sections [of the fencing] were out of the ground, leaning against other pieces, poles totally disconnected, chicken wire from who knows when, rusted and hanging from the top,” said Ebnet. “It was just crazy. It was kind of a mess.”
And in some cases, more than a mess. “We definitely [had] some safety issues on the fields,” said Barb Schwarz, Chairman of the Benson Baseball Association.
The condition of the field was hardly a surprise, given the complex’s heavy use and the fact it is well into its fourth decade of use by many teams and organizations.
“Not only do our students use it for our high school sports and junior high sports, but our community education programs use it, our town baseball team uses it, Legion, [and] VFW,” said Shannon Schmidt, activities director at Benson High School.
But what to do?
Ebnet started researching options and found the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program, which gives $25,000 grants to organizations and programs that build stronger communities.
The top 40 grant recipients are determined by a popular vote online, so Ebnet, after submitting a proposal, became a one-man publicity machine rallying his small community of 3,000 to get online and vote.
And how does a community win according to Ebnet? “You get the newspaper involved, get the radio station involved, give flyers to the grocery stores,” he said. “Soon the entire community knew about the effort and started voting.”
It paid off. Benson was the top vote-getter, and in the summer of 2014, work began to bring the facilities up to date.
Today Benson’s fields feature new fencing and other improvements. But the best part, said Ebnet, is the sense of solidarity and togetherness the effort created.
“Sure we had an end benefit – we were going to get our fields fixed,” Ebnet said. “But at the same time, we were pulling our community together to rally around one cause. And if you talk to anybody about the grant, they say ‘it helped OUR fields.’ Not their fields, or the baseball community’s fields.”