In the spring of 2016, Duluth Amateur Youth Basketball Association coach Stacey Verhel faced a dilemma. Her fifth- and sixth-grade West Duluth boys basketball team had a phenomenal 22-0 regular season and advanced to a state tournament in the Twin Cities.
"We did really well and just had this awesome team, so I wanted to go to the Cities and show the people down there what our program is all about," Verhel said.
There was just one problem - money.
Verhel knew that many of her players' parents wouldn't be able to afford to travel to the Cities to see the kids play or afford hotel rooms for the tournament. She turned to fellow Duluthian Mike Letica, Curtis Oil operations manager, to see if the SuperAmerica stores he managed could help them out.
"Basically Stacey came to me and said, 'Mike, we're going to state, but we can't afford to go, can you help me?' So I did," Letica said. "I know that when that happens to a high school team, the district or whatever pays for everything, the kids don't have to worry about it. But the youth groups are a little different. They have to do their own fundraising."
That experience sparked a movement to support youth activities that will reach a new level this week with "A Day at the Wade," a community fundraiser taking place at Wade Stadium on Wednesday.
Back in 2016, Letica donated $1,000 to help take care of hotel costs for Verhel's team, gave away gas cards to parents to drive their kids, and allowed the boys to go on a shopping spree in the Morgan Park SuperAmerica store to get items to feed themselves while on the road and in the hotel.
"I think the kids ate for a week and a half off of that shopping spree," Verhel said. "It was pretty amazing and it helped all the kids be able to go."
The request from Verhel motivated Letica to get more involved in sponsoring youth sports activities. He asked his company to sponsor the Morgan Park softball league so the kids could get uniforms and hats, donated water to various youth programs and helped the youth football teams buy uniforms. But Letica started thinking of a way to do more.
"I thought, we need to be prepared in case that happens again because I can't keep giving out all this money on my own," Letica said.
So Letica started reaching out to youth organizations to see if they'd be interested in being involved in a large fundraiser at Wade Stadium in the summer, and organized the Western Duluth Youth Fundraiser Committee to raise money for youth sports and activities from Fond du Lac to Piedmont Heights.
Letica got the Duluth Huskies on board with donating use of the stadium while the team is away. Personnel from the Duluth Police Department and Duluth Fire Department agreed to attend. Vendors and games for kids will be available throughout the event, which will take place from 4-8 p.m. Wednesday at the stadium.
Tickets are $10 and include a meal and entertainment; they're available at the gate. Find more information about the event here.
The event will feature music from international recording artist Clare Means from Los Angeles. Before her, local acts Paul Newberg and the Trash Cats will open the show.
Another act featured in the concert is Born Too Late, recent winners of the Duluth's Got Talent contest held in May. Born Too Late consists of a group of Superior youth between the ages of 10 to 15. The band mostly plays classic rock from the 1970s and '80s, hence the name.
One of the teams that will benefit from the fundraiser is the Western Duluth Little League Intermediate 50/70 Division district tournament team, which won the Minnesota District III and state tournament titles, and has advanced to the Central Regional Tournament in Kalamazoo, Mich., starting July 21. The team is raising money to make the trip to represent Minnesota at the tournament.
This story originally appeared in the Western Weekly, one of two new weekly newspapers serving the neighborhoods of Duluth. For more information on the Eastern Observer and the Western Weekly, go to www.dulutheasternobserver.com and www.duluthwesternweekly.com.