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Steeped in tradition, Cavaliers continue hometown legacy of community involvement

The first pitch of the Eau Claire Cavaliers’ 53rd season is set for Sunday and those who have been associated with the squad — many since its inception — feel that with continued community support, the baseball team will continue for many decades to come.

“Eau Claire has always been a strong baseball town and has always had a strong youth program,” Dick Gannon, who was one of five who founded the Cavaliers 53 years ago, said. “There was really no program around in Eau Claire at the time for these kids to play baseball.”

And so began the proud tradition of the Eau Claire Cavaliers.

The Eau Claire Cavaliers is an amateur baseball organization that started in 1971. The 2024 baseball season will see the Eau Claire Cavaliers starting their seventh season as members of the Chippewa River Baseball League (CRBL). And, to continue that tradition of excellence, members of the team’s board of directors hope to attract some volunteers from the next generation to move the team forward. More on that later.

Its website mission statement points out that “We are a non-profit organization that strives for youth betterment and community employment of sporting activities, primarily baseball. We participate in (the) operation of activities associated with sports facilitation and enjoyment while promoting community interest and raising revenues for our continuation.”

The statement goes on to note that the “Cavaliers were formed to provide, promote, and field a baseball team that shall compete at the highest level of competition. Local players will have the opportunity to join the Cavaliers and represent the organization through their play and in promoting community interest in the team and baseball at all age levels.”

Even before the establishment of the non-profit organization that is the Cavaliers, there were baseball teams here and in time, other teams and leagues would come to Eau Claire and continue to this day. According to members of the team’s board of directors, the Cavaliers are unique, however, because of the added commitment they have to the community, which is not only stressed in their mission statement, but also is a source of pride for those who serve on the team’s board of directors.

“It isn’t just about the baseball side of it, it’s about everything they do in the community,” Nicole Brannigan, who serves as the president of the team’s board of directors told the Leader-Telegram in a recent exclusive interview. “We try to help other local nonprofits,” she noted.

To that end and as a focal point of being a nonprofit, you will see these players, who have to live within a 30-mile range of Carson Park, where the Cavaliers home games are held, at various community events and fundraisers throughout the spring and summer months, as their practice and game schedules permit.

Looking back at the history of this beloved Eau Claire institution, a May 2021 Leader-Telegram article that celebrated the team’s 50th anniversary here broke down some of the history of the squad.

The legendary Glenn St. Arnault managed the first team in 1971 and held the post until 1975 before returning for two more years in 1977 and 1978. Harv Tomter took over the role of manager the following year and led the Cavs to immense success. Under his tutelage for 26 years, Eau Claire went 1,595-437 and won five Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series championships.

Ten-plus former Cavaliers went on to play in Major League Baseball.

There’s an abundance of history behind the club, and there’s an underlying sense of family instilled in both the players and the volunteers who serve the team year after year.

“We’ve grown to become family with those involved. I think a lot of people don’t understand how rewarding it is,” Brannigan said.

To that end, the board is hoping to attract new volunteers to get involved with the team.

“Eighty percent of our board is retired, so we’re trying to find help. “The future of the Eau Claire cavalier heavily depends on growing our program by gaining new active members of our board and our program,” Brannigan said, noting that the majority of the current board has volunteered since the Cavaliers inaugural season and continue to give back each year.

Randy Millis, vice president of the Cavaliers’ board of directors is one of those lifers. He said that in general they need 8-10 people to volunteer for each game doing a variety of things, including helping to set up and selling game tickets, raffle tickets and souvenirs, among other things.

Millis noted that the more people who volunteer the less demands there would be on everyone, as a rotation of volunteers could then take place. If someone would like to do more than simply volunteer , there are current board of directors vacancies available, too, which would require attendance at a monthly board meeting to discuss both game-day positions and how to best find ways for the board and the team to give back to the community. In addition to the board of directors, there is a board of control.

The board of control helps with anything from fundraising to volunteering their time. “Some use their skilled traits like wood working to build stuff for our season, while others that sew fix up all of our uniforms. It’s more of a family all hands on deck kind of thing,” Brannigan said.

In addition to Brannigan and Millis, executive officers include Brad Payson, secretary and Judy St. Arnault, treasurer. Current board of control members include Lois Hove, Kelli Jackson, Dave Johnson, John Nicolai, Bill Briggs, Chris Olson, Rick Olson, Wendy Payson, Dan Sessions, Anna Zook and Ben Ryder.

As Millis pointed out, each season, the youth of Eau Claire attend games where interaction with the current team allows the “young kids to continue to improve their skills.”

Brannigan said those youth nights are an ideal opportunity for possibly future Cavaliers to “come and warm up with the players.”

Just as the city’s youth come to watch and learn from the current team, members of the board are hopeful that the younger generation of Eau Clairians will also step up to bat, so to speak, and volunteer for the squad to keep the dream alive for future players and the community and to continue the tradition set more than five decades ago from those who are still giving back to the team.

“This team allows-college aged players to continue to play baseball,” Millis noted.

For that legacy to continue all those involved with the team feel hopeful that a new guard of volunteers — including college-aged students and others beyond their college years who simply love the game — will get on deck to bring the squad into its sixth decade…and way beyond.

There are a variety of ways for those interested in volunteering to contact the organization. Potential volunteers are encouraged to send an email to eccavaliers@gmail.com , call 715-563-5298 or simply show up at an upcoming Cavaliers game.

First pitch on this year’s incarnation of the Cavaliers is set for 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Carson Park when Eau Claire takes on the Osseo Merchants. Other notable dates on the 2024 schedule include the CRBL All-Star Game on July 7 at Jim Falls Sturgeons Field in Jim Falls and Fan Appreciation Night on August 5 when the Menomonie Eagles come to Carson Park. Pocket schedules are available at various locations throughout town and the entire 2024 schedule can also be found on the team’s website, www.eauclairecavaliers.org