One field at a time: Spirit Lake Youth Sports providing athletic avenue for youth

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

FORT TOTTEN – Dean Dauphinais knew what the remedy was. 

Since Dauphinais had two kids, it only made sense to find an activity for the pair to be involved in as spring in 2021 started to roll into summer. Perhaps, in due time, both of his kids would come to learn a sport that they’d eventually come to love. It only takes one session or two to get hooked, after all. 

For Dauphinais, it was baseball – after playing the sport as a youth back in the 1980s, it only made sense to give his kids the opportunity to possibly find that same spark he kindled back in the day. 

Justin Yankton (left) and Dean Dauphinais (right) spearheaded the effort to create Spirit Lake Youth Baseball in addition to Spirit Lake Youth Sports.

There was one problem, however. After talking with Justin Yankton – one of the leading individuals involved in youth activities in the Fort Totten area – there was one takeaway: nothing was planned by the Spirit Lake Tribe, or by any recreation center, for that matter, to help facilitate any such activities. 

Baseball, in particular, was no exception to the rule. Although there were facilities to put together such an endeavor, they required hefty maintenance. Two diamonds – including a softball field – at Four Winds Community School proved as such. Each lot was peppered with gopher craters and overrun by vegetation. 

Dauphinais and Yankton recognized the problem and the solution almost to a tee. Because the reservation did not have a fully established youth sports program, the ability to put together a youth baseball program, in particular, would be a hurdle, given the work needed to patch up the fields in question. 

Challenge accepted. 

And so, Spirit Lake Youth Baseball came into being. Spirit Lake Youth Baseball is a program under Spirit Lake Youth Sports, a nonprofit entity looking to provide kids with an opportunity to participate in athletic activities. 

After initial discussions in the spring of 2021, Dauphinais and Yankton formulated a road map. A baseball season slated to take place from early June to mid-July was finalized. However, while more than 80 kids participated, the program had to begin their season on other Fort Totten diamonds instead of the softball field they wished to use at Four Winds Community School. 

Not to worry. With support from the school, there was traction to fix up each field, starting with the softball diamond. 

“It was just littered,” Dauphinais said. “Even the baseline, here, there were craters in there because these fields, since they have been built, have largely been not used or heavily underutilized for probably 98-99% of the time they have been here. They haven’t really been used for anything. So that’s why the school was easy for them…you guys are organized. Yes, you guys can use the facilities. Well, we took it upon ourselves to do the maintenance.” 

“There are a lot of gophers, for sure, but it’s just been a team effort,” Yankton said. “I have a lot of brothers [and] nephews that have come out, and we just put a lot of time into it trying to get it to playing conditions.”

A revamped and refreshed diamond at Four Winds Community School has allowed regular baseball activities to occur.

Yankton, the Spirit Lake Youth Sports president, captained the renovation effort. Finally, after a month’s work – in addition to a price tag close to $5,000 – the field was ready for pitching sessions, batting practice and old-fashioned games of catch. 

Given his history of playing youth baseball, it only made sense for Yankton to provide an opportunity for kids to play a sport he loved. 

“To me, it’s very important,” Yankton said. “It’s something for them to do, whether it’s in the morning, afternoon [or] evening time, but it’s something we did as youngsters. When school was out, it was baseball time, and I enjoyed it. I got to play with all my buddies [and] my brothers and had fun doing it. And it was something that I always felt needed to be out here and should be out here for our kids. Whether they stick with it or not, it’s at least another avenue for them to find some enjoyment outside. That’s the main thing. The game of baseball...it’s a summertime activity and something that, as a community, hopefully, we can continue to gather, bring the kids out, practice, maybe have some games here soon and then just enjoy it."

Spirit Lake Youth Baseball’s 2022 season has been as successful as its inaugural season. Sessions are split up into groups, depending on age. Even Mother Nature (not to mention a few more gopher holes) didn’t hamper such an effort from gaining steam even more during the 2022 campaign. 

Eventually, patching up other fields could be a way to expand the local effort. Long-term aspirations could even involve the school system pursuing a high school baseball and softball team. 

“We’ve got the base to work from, here, and now, every year, we are trying to make it a little bit better and just keep it well maintained,” Dauphinais said. “We feel like there is no reason why we shouldn’t have really quality fields for our kids. We have this really beautiful infrastructure here, so now we are just trying to come in and put it to its highest and best use, is what I would say.” 

To Dauphinais, Spirit Lake Youth Baseball and Spirit Lake Youth Sports as a whole keep kids busy in the most productive way possible.

Through Spirit Lake Youth Baseball, kids have had the opportunity to participate in a summer activity. But baseball does not have to be the sole activity. To Dauphinais, Spirit Lake Youth Sports could eventually grow to include activities such as flag football. 

Regardless of where the program goes, Dauphinais sees Spirit Lake Youth Baseball – and Spirit Lake Youth Sports – as a channel for kids to stay involved. 

If nothing else, it keeps them busy. 

“Activities like this means that kids are doing something productive,” Dauphinais said. “Something that’s healthy. A game that they can play. If they get older [and] if they want to go on to Babe Ruth and Legion ball and things like that, you could pursue those pathways, but if nothing else, it’s a recreational activity no matter where you go.” 

And, when it’s all said and done, perhaps a kid or two finds that spark.  

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.