By Kristen Miller
COKATO, DASSEL, MN - A wide range of activities offered year-round to children of all ages helps make Cokato and Dassel an even more appealing community for young families.
From golf in the summer to hockey in the winter, there are plenty of opportunities for youth to get out and enjoy the great outdoors anytime of the year.
Some of the top programs available include the Bill Hempel Golf Program, Outdoor Youth Hockey, Community Education’s summer recreation programs, and Dassel-Cokato Baseball Association’s youth baseball programs.
Bill Hempel Golf Program
Last summer, there were 63 youth, grades three through nine, who participated in the Bill Hempel Golf Program at Cokato Town and Country Club.
“We’re very fortunate that [the country club] allows us to bring our kid on the course Thursday mornings,” said Colleen Compton, DC Community Education programs coordinator.
The program runs Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon for seven weeks from early June through mid-July.
It’s open to beginners and advanced players and instructed by Rick Gross among other instructors including few high school golfers.
“I think it’s good because children of all levels of ability can come out and play,” Gross said, noting it’s low-stress and high on fun.
The program is also convenient because it’s right in town at the Cokato Town and Country Club, he said. “We really appreciate all they do for us.”
The summer golf program offers young people a taste for the sport and may encourage them to continue playing throughout high school, Compton explained.
“It’s a wholesome, worthwhile activity for kids to do in the summertime,” she said.
Registration is through DC Community Education.
Outdoor DC Youth Hockey
Hockey is undoubtedly a popular sport in the Cokato and Dassel area, judging by the number of participants in its outdoor hockey program.
This year, there are 98 kids, in kindergarten through sixth grade, who are participating in the program, which started Dec. 28 and runs through late-February.
Coordinators and instructors for the program are Abe Niemela and Maurice Niemela, along with several parents who volunteer their time to help coach.
“It couldn’t be done without the commitments from parents,” Maurice said.
The low-pressure program attracts kids from surrounding communities because it’s a lot less intense and not as time- consuming as some hockey programs can get, Maurice explained.
The program is twice a week, Tuesday nights, with kindergarten through third grade from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and 7:30 to 9 p.m. for grades four through six; and then again Saturday mornings.
The program is split into two age groups, but separated by abilities and utilizes all three of the outdoor rinks at Mooers Park in Cokato.
Beginners learn the basics, and the advanced players can get a little more intense by learning more of the fundamentals of the sport.
“It gives you an introduction to [hockey],” Maurice said, adding that kids are able to get a feel for the sport and whether or not they will continue with it.
Currently, the outdoor program only goes through sixth grade, but options are being discussed for the older grades, Maurice said. Currently, grades seven and above will begin the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (L/DC) hockey program at the Litchfield arena.
“It’s fun to see them develop,” Maurice said, adding that the outdoor program allows for “a pretty seamless transition when they go to L/DC.”
The program concludes with a year-end indoor hockey event at the Hutchinson arena that includes a pizza party.
Participants can sign up through Community Education.
Ski and Snowboard Club
The Dassel-Cokato Ski and Snowboard Club is also popular among the youth, with 130 registered in grades five through 12 this year.
For seven weeks, beginning after holiday break, participants are bussed to Powder Ridge Monday nights to ski the slopes or snowboard.
Lessons are offered for the first four weeks, and bus transportation is provided.
Registration is through Community Education.
Dassel-Cokato Baseball Association’s youth baseball
When the snow melts and the temperatures rise, the Dassel-Cokato Baseball Association gears up for a summer of youth baseball.
Last year, there were 285 participants (24 teams) in grades one through 12 involved in the youth baseball program, which starts in mid-May and runs through early August.
Practices are typically twice a week with weekly games scheduled by the DCBA board, which consists of 15 members.
Spring Lake Park in Dassel is used heavily for games, with practices taking place at Peterson Park and Legion Park in Cokato, the Dassel Ball Park/Saints Field, and Spring Lake Park, according to Mark Forsman, DCBA president.
“It’s a good instruction for kids if they want to learn about the game of baseball,” Forsman said.
Since everything is home-based, it’s not a big time constraint for families either, he said, adding that grades seven through 12 travel to nearby towns.
Registration is through the DC Saints website, www.dcsaints.com.
Dassel-Cokato Community Education offers opportunities for all ages throughout the year from recreation to enrichment.
“It’s not all sports-related,” Compton said. “A lot is enrichment opportunities, from private music lessons to arts and crafts and theater.”
With an advisory council made up of two school board representatives, and representatives from the ministerium, both cities, and the community, “it’s a good representation,” Compton said.
Opportunities for youth include basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, softball, kinderball, T-ball, summer football camps, and more.
Also in the summer, Community Education brings in Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre, a week-long program that provides an opportunity for area youth to get their first taste of theater. This year, the production will be “Peter Pan.”
There are also several training opportunities for youth including Red Cross babysitting courses offered year-round, and Red Cross swimming lessons and lifeguard training.
Community Education also offers school-age childcare through Charger Kid’s Club offered before and after school (when school is in session) from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Also under the Community Education umbrella is Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and Play-N-Learn preschool, also known as School Readiness.
Through ECFE, parents and their children can participate in facilitated learning time that also provides parents with information on child development and parenting techniques.
This not only has benefits for the child, but it also allows parents to connect with each other, said Jane Ryan, Early Childhood programs coordinator.
Play-N-Learn Preschool is a public school program that is based on the understanding that young children learn best through play.
For more information about any of the programs offered through DC Community Education, visit www.dc.k12.mn.us and click the Community Education tab, or call (320) 286-4120.