Ely making the switch to Junior Legion

Post 248 set to host seven other foes in ’Zup North Realty Classic

The jerseys are the same and the age level is nearly identical, yet Ely will make a major switch when it comes to youth baseball this weekend.
That’s when for the first time in community history, Ely will field a Junior Legion team.
Junior Legion has replaced VFW as the middle level of Ely’s summer baseball program, and the team makes its debut with this weekend’s ’Zup North Realty Classic.
Eight teams, including host Ely, will take part in the three-day event that wraps up Sunday at Veterans Memorial Field.
Like VFW baseball, Junior Legion is largely for players age 16 and under, but a few 17-year-olds make the cut thanks to a Jan. 1 cutoff date.
Across the state, Junior Legion is taking off, particularly for small-school programs such as Ely’s.
Rather than compete with heavyweights such as Duluth East, Grand Rapids and Cloquet at the VFW level, Ely will instead compete in the Eighth District Division II Junior ranks, joining other Class A and AA programs such as Virginia, Cook County, Esko, Greenway, Cherry, Nashwauk-Keewatin, Northeast Range, International Falls and South Ridge.
“This makes a lot more sense for us from a competitive standpoint,” said Tom Coombe, Ely’s American Legion baseball coach and summer baseball coordinator. “It’s very similar to Division II Legion baseball and we will be competing against many of the same programs we see during the high school season.”
The Junior Legion team will be led by longtime VFW coach Jim Wittrup, who will guide a team that is still being assembled as the high school season winds down. Ely will have a mix of players from eighth-grade through high school juniors.
Sophomores Dalton Schreffler and Luke Olson, both starters on the high school team in the spring, figure to be two key contributors in the Junior Legion lineup.
Ely met Babbitt-Embarrasss-Soudan-Tower to open the tournament Friday night, and Saturday matchups are set against West Duluth (2:30 p.m.) and Esko (7 p.m.). The hosts take on Duluth East to close out the tournament at 4:45 p.m. Sunday.
Virginia, Cherry and Thunder Bay are also part of the eight-team field.
The regular season includes a new format, with Ely joining the newly-formed Iron Range American Legion League, with games on Tuesdays and Thursdays, generally with a Junior Legion game at 5 p.m. and a Senior Legion contest to follow.
Postseason action takes place the week of July 30 at Marble, site of the Northeast District Playoffs. The state tournament will be held at Montevideo Aug. 10-12.