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Legion Classic smaller in size this year

Started more than a decade ago to give Ely’s American Legion baseball team some exposure to competition from outside the area, the Ely Legion Classic has since evolved into one of the top tournaments in northern Minnesota.The 17th annual event, now sponsored by the Ely Chamber of Commerce, kicks off this weekend and brings top-flight talent from both northern Minnesota and beyond.But while previous Legion Classics have included as many as nine teams, this year’s event is much smaller in size.Late withdrawals by several 2003 entrants including one - Duluth Central - that won’t field a team this year, has left the 2004 event with only four teams.Host Ely will be joined by Legion Classic mainstay Sartell and two first-time entrants: Proctor and St. Charles.The action begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday, with host Ely starting its four-game slate at 8 p.m. against Sartell. The tournament continues through Sunday (see schedule).In between, players, coaches and fans alike should be treated to some quality baseball in a tournament that has attracted attention from throughout the state. This year’s event features two Division II teams (high school enrollment under 400) in Ely and St. Charles, and two Division I (enrollment over 400) squads - Sartell and Proctor.Winners of the tournament several times since their first visit in 1994, Sartell is heavily favored to go home with another championship trophy.Sartell’s high school team, coached by Elyite Jerome Nemanich, played in last week’s Class AAA high school state tournament.Most of the Sabres’ high school players are on the Legion squad, as is standout Tim Burns, who played this spring at Itasca Community College.After a good experience here during the Division II state tournament, St. Charles comes to Ely for the Legion Classic.Located in southeastern Minnesota, bordering Wisconsin, St. Charles has both a solid program - including two straight state tournament appearances - and a big following.Proctor is a first-time entrant in the Classic. Hard-hitting Jake Comnick leads a team that had a winning season in high school ball.The host Ely team will be shorthanded for the tournament, as standout pitcher and hitter Josh Mathson will be absent. He’ll be in Chaska participating in the Minnesota High School Lions All-Star Series. Mathson was one of 80 high school seniors to be selected for the two-day tournament.• Tickets for weekend games are $4 per day, with a weekend pass available for $10.

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