Thursday, February 26, 2004

For these boys of summer, noble tributes are in order

Around Northern Kentucky

Pat Crowley

How do you say thanks to a couple of guys who dedicated their lives to kids?

Between them, Oscar Bartel and Walt Wiefering spent almost 90 years on ball fields in Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati and who knows where else. They were always teaching kids to be better ballplayers, which in turn usually made them better kids.

Dedication, teamwork, persistence, knowing how to win as well as how to lose. Those aren't just platitudes taped on a locker room wall. Those were the lessons that Bartel and Wiefering gave to the hundreds - if not thousands - of kids whose lives they touched over lifetimes of coaching youth baseball.

"My dad would do anything for the kids," said Bill Wiefering, Walt's son. "They meant everything to him. Of course, he couldn't have done any of it without the help and support of my mom. She was always there for him."

Before he died 18 months ago, Wiefering coached for about 40 years, even after losing his legs to illness.

Bartel has been at it for 45 years. He says this is his last season. He's said that before.

Don't be surprised to see him coaching the Jokers - his fundamentally sound T-ball team that takes infield like a squad twice its age - next year.

Along with their dedication to coaching, these men lived strikingly similar lives.

Both were born, raised and lived in north Campbell County. Both were blue-collar workers: Bartel, an auto worker, Wiefering, a railroad man.

Both raised large families. Bartel and his wife, Lucille, raised nine kids; Walt and Marie Wiefering had eight.

Both served in the U.S. Navy.

Bartel and Wiefering were throwbacks to a different time, before select soccer consumed kids' lives 12 months a year; before kids went from high school to the NBA; before adult involvement and infringement took too much youth out of youth sports.

"When we had games outside of this area, Walt just piled all the kids in his car and took off," said Newport Central Catholic athletic director Ron Dawn, who played for Wiefering as a boy and who went on to be a standout athlete at NCC and Thomas More College.

"You didn't worry about seat belts back then," Dawn said. "We didn't care how cramped it was. We just wanted to play ball."

Bartel preached patience and a focus on the fundamentals of the game, "but the most important thing was to have fun," said his son, Dennis Bartel.

So how do you say thank you?

Some folks in Newport think naming a couple ball fields would be an appropriate tribute. The city already has some fields and parks named for politicians and two young men who died in Vietnam.

Naming fields after Bartel and Wiefering sounds like a great way to say thanks.


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