Snowshoeing with Jim Joque
Two winters ago when I co-taught a snowshoeing course at UW-Stevens Point’s Treehaven, we added a game of snowshoe baseball for the first time to our list of activities. One of our instructional staff led a group of students in a few innings of the game on snowshoes, using an orange painted softball and hula hoops for bases. Students enjoyed playing snowshoe baseball in snow.
As we transitioned into winter this 2017 season, I looked back at what people do with snowshoes in the summertime. Well, in Lake Tomahawk, Wis., “snowshoe baseball” is played every Monday night from the end of June through the end of August, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The only difference is that the game is played on woodchips rather than snow, and the players wear traditional wood-framed, modified bearpaw snowshoes. Also, they play the game with a large yellow softball, and the defense team does not wear gloves when in the field. Sounds crazy, but the crowd loves it.
The long-standing snowshoe baseball tradition in Lake Tomahawk first started way back in 1961. It continues to be a tourist attraction held at Snowshoe Park in this Northwoods town of a little over 1,100 residents. As you enter the town on Wisconsin Highway 47, their sign reads, “Welcome to Lake Tomahawk, Home of Snowshoe Baseball.” This fun-loving community takes pride in their unique and popular sport, as was evident when friends and I attended a game last summer. The ballpark stands were packed when we arrived, and we had to set up our lawn chairs along the far left field.
In mid-July, a few friends and I decided to combine camping with attending an evening ballgame at Lake Tomahawk. We set up our tents at Indian Mounds Campground, a part of Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest. Our campsite provided us with a great view and access to the 3,462-acre Tomahawk Lake. And when in Lake Tomahawk, it is just a short walk from the ballpark to the east end of the lake, where there is a boat landing.
I’m not sure why the lake and town have reverse names – Tomahawk Lake the lake, and Lake Tomahawk the town. But they do. Both lake and town are located in Oneida County, east of Hazelhurst, and southeast of Minocqua in north-central Wisconsin.
During the summer, the area is popular for boating, swimming and fishing. According to the Wisconsin DNR, Tomahawk Lake has ample panfish, walleye, northern pike, bass and some musky – all are in very clear waters. During the winter months, the place bustles with ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and fat bking. Nearby McNaughton, Madeline and Raven cross-country ski trails provide many miles of groomed trails.
Following a great cookout and campfire on our first night camping, we got in a little canoeing and fishing the next day. Our group then headed over to the ballpark on Monday evening. It was only about a two-mile drive from the campground to Snowshoe Park.
Surprisingly, there is no admission fee to attend the games. However, a butterfly net is passed during the game for donations. The proceeds go to various charitable projects in the Lake Tomahawk community. A concession stand is sponsored by area service clubs where they sell food and soft drinks before and during the game. Brats, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and hot dogs are on the menu. And, what ballgame can be played without popcorn? I found a popcorn stand just around the corner from the concession stand. But unique to this ballpark is the large assortment of homemade pie slices that is the park specialty. To keep with tradition, I bought apple and pecan pie for me and my friends.
The home team is the Snowhawks. This particular game, the Snowhawks played WPS Local 420. The game started with the National Anthem sung beautifully by a local vocalist. And then it was … play ball!
We found it amusing to watch both teams made up of young men catching fly balls barehanded, and sliding on their bellies into home base on occasion – dragging their snowshoes behind. This ballgame was by no means boring. The further we got into the game, the more exciting it became. And, excitement grew when occasionally a fly ball would land in the crowd or hit a nearby parked car or pickup truck. People didn’t seem to care, as they were having too much fun.
Although we were two weeks late for the July 4th event, we heard the town bustled with excitement at that game as Lake Tomahawk’s Snowhawks played a Chicago all-star team, followed by celebratory fireworks. Rhinelander‘s “Northwoods River News” reported that thousands filled the stands and beyond to watch a close game into the ninth inning, where the Snowhawks won by only two runs (16-14). The night of our game, the Snowshawks beat WPS, 21-11.
At all the games, “fun” is the descriptive word. For example, an entertaining gag took place when the Snowhawks pitched a grapefruit in lieu of the softball. As the fruit splattered against the batter’s bat, the Snowhawks in the field all fell backward to the ground, landing on their buttocks in unison as the crowd howled with laughter. And during the seventh-inning stretch, the announcers led the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
If you care to check out the summer snowshoe fun in Lake Tomahawk, the 2017 schedule can be found at www.laketomahawkwi.org/area-info/activities/snowshoe-baseball. And, I hope to continue to play winter snowshoe baseball at Treehaven. That game will be played on snow rather than sawdust, but the snowshoes will remain the same.