in Claremont, SD, right on Main Street. There’s an elevator, there’s a bar,
there’s a church, and yes, they’re still playing baseball in this great town.
We’re going to talk about generations past, but more importantly how they’re
celebrating baseball yet today, said KELOLAND On the Road host, Mike Huether.
“Little Claremont was playing big Aberdeen. And at the ballpark at Aberdeen, and the score was tied, and it was getting dark,” recalls life-long Claremont resident Virginia Pulfrey. “Prunty come up to bat. Our only hope to hit a home run because he was the big home run hitter. And he fouled them off and fouled them off and finally got a full count. “Ope, he hit it, he said, ‘There it goes. I can’t see it anymore. I can’t see it anymore.’ Pretty soon, the crowd just started roaring, and an umpire out in the field was motioning that it went over the fence,” said Pulfrey. “Home run,” said KELOLAND On The Road host, Mike Huether.
The Claremont Honkers defeated Aberdeen back in 1938 to begin what would become one of the finest traditions of America’s pastime. Honker baseball dominated South Dakota’s baseball fields. “They beat Rapid City. They beat Sioux Falls. They beat all the big towns. I think they only lost one game,” recalls Pulfrey. The athletes of this small town back then were determined, and they were tough. “When it comes to basketball, football, whatever, Claremont was tough. We won the state track meet one time with two guys (laughter and a clap),” said Pulfrey.
As we all know, tradition can only take you so far. The biggest thing in life is to work hard and create your own celebrated moments, capture new victories. “Well, I mean, it’s… Claremont had a history going back years, you know, into the 30s and 20s. They started playing amateur baseball, had a lot of history of some good teams through then. And even our younger programs, we like to start them out in T-ball. I mean, some will be three, four, or five years old starting in T-ball going up and it’s just kind of what you do in Claremont. I mean, everybody just wants to play baseball and be a Honker,” said Claremont Honkers Baseball Coach Mike Frey.
That is Honkers baseball coach Mike Frey. He has been playing or coaching as a Honker for more than 40 years. The ties to baseball all around the area run deep. “The ties might be once upon a time, they might have had a family member from Claremont and now maybe they did move away, you know. Always… but yet, they still feel that tie to Claremont so they will travel 20, 30, 40 miles to come back because… I feel that, you know, there was still a tie to our immediate community,” said Coach Mike Frey.
Kagan Cutler is a sixth-generation Honker. He drives 40 miles from Frederick to play. “My grandpa, my great grandpa, everyone’s been here. So that’s kind of one of the reasons why I came here,” said Cutler.
Honkers baseball is on a comeback. Virginia Pulfrey explains the impetus. These young guys that all of the sudden their kids got big enough to play ball. And we had a lull with… I don’t know, 8, 10 years maybe that we didn’t have Junior Legion,” said Pulfrey. “Okay. Virginia: The town team runs out of players, like Mike said, they were busy farming. And all of the sudden, these young guys wanted their kids to play like they played,” adds Huether.
Over 50 youth are enjoying Honkers baseball from Aberdeen, Amherst, Britton, Claremont, Frederick, Groton, Langford, Leola and Pierpont. These towns’ investments are paying off, just ask Kagen and Coach Mike. “You want your kids to have a good experience playing a sport that they love, so I can see why they make that sacrifice,” said Kagan Cutler. “It teaches you not to quit. It teaches you many life lessons on if you lose, don’t pout about it, just move on. You know, good life lessons like that,” Cutler added. “Teaching your young people actually how to lose is just as important as teaching them how to win,” Huether said. “Yep, exactly. I mean, that’s the way life is. It ain’t… you ain’t always going to win in life. You have bumps in the road. You have adversity. You got to be able to work through it,” agreed Coach Frey.
Not only are folks investing their time like Coach Frey, but they are investing their hard-earned money, too. Fans pull out all of the stops so that kids can be a Honker. “We’ve always kind of had the… the precedence that we wanted to keep baseball cheap for our kids. Because it is expensive, like you say, the fuel and all that, so we’ve never had our kids pay,” Said Coach Frey.
Honkers baseball has a way to go before capturing another state baseball championship. But don’t tell these folks that their dream is dead. “You guys heard Coach Mike, he said he wants to bring a state championship back to Claremont. What do you think of that?” asked Huether. “Come on!” (Applause and cheers and clapping.)
And whatever you do, don’t tell the biggest fan of Honkers baseball and her proud hometown that they are finished either. “If they think Claremont is dead, they should come out here some night, when all these kids play, and they’ll find out it ain’t dead. They’re here. There’s a lot of kids and lot of cars,” said Virginia Pulfrey. “A lot of honking?” asked Huether. “Oh yeah!” agreed Pulfrey.
rosters for the Claremont Honkers run deep. There is a total of six teams which
take the field under the Honkers mantle. These include T-ball, Pee Wee, Midget,
Teeners, Jr. Legion and Legion teams. The annual budget for the teams is around
9 to12-thousand dollars which covers all the equipment, the insurance, as well
as jerseys, umpire fees and park upgrades. An upgraded electronic scoreboard
was added last year. Remember, Honkers players play for free.